VATIS Update Non-conventional Energy . Oct-Dec 2012

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New and Renewable Energy Oct-Dec 2012

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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Tokelau sets renewable energy record

Tokelau, a small Polynesian territory in the central Pacific, has surpassed the rest of the world in replacing fossil fuels and raised the benchmark of achievement on sustainable development. The three atolls, located north of Samoa and home to about 1,400 people, will claim a world record soon when they switch totally to renewable energy, sourced mainly from solar power. Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo atolls, which are administered by New Zealand, are 3-5 m above sea level and comprise a total land area of 12 km2. The territory’s energy requirements for electricity, domestic use and transportation have hitherto been met by imported fossil fuels, costing the tiny country roughly US$820,000/year.

In 2004, the Government of Tokelau developed its national policy and strategy to increase energy efficiency and independence with a focus on the renewable sector. This year, the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project, funded by New Zealand Aid and comprising one of the world’s largest off-grid solar systems, came to fruition. In the past few months 4,032 photovoltaic (PV) panels and 1,344 batteries have been installed on the three atolls. The electricity generators will run on coconut biofuel produced on the islands. The systems installed will be capable of providing more than the current electricity demand, which will allow the Tokelauns to expand their electricity consumption without increase in diesel use.

The region’s potential for renewable energy is not confined to Tokelau. All the Pacific islands receive abundant sunshine, while Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu possess large potential for solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energy. Overall only about 30 per cent of the region’s population of 10 million gets electricity. Reducing the region’s reliance on fossil fuels is critical to development gains, as the import bills are exorbitant. Petroleum comprises 32 per cent of Fiji’s total imports and 23 per cent of Tonga’s, while Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands rate among the most oil price-vulnerable countries in the world.

India ranked 4th on renewable energy market potential

Ernst & Young, one of the largest professional service firms in the world, has ranked India fourth on renewable attractiveness index, after China, the United States and Germany. India ranks second on solar index and third on wind index, says the latest study by Ernst & Young and UBM India. India has been consistently ranked among the top five countries in terms of its market potential for renewable energy.

With power generation from renewable sources on the rise in India, share of renewable energy in the country’s total energy mix increased from 7.8 per cent in financial year 2008 to 12.1 per cent in financial year 2012. India had around 26 GW of installed renewable energy capacity as on 31 August 2012 and plans to more than triple its renewable energy capacity in the next 10 years, driven primarily by wind and solar energies, the study said.

Investments in clean energy in India had increased by 54 per cent year-on-year, representing the highest growth rate across any significant global economy, to reach US$10.2 billion in 2011. Solar energy sector continues to be an attractive alternative for investors wanting to shift their focus from Europe’s declining solar sector and has attracted investments worth US$4.2 billion in 2011 – growing close to seven-fold from 2010, the report stated. The wind energy sector attracted investments amounting to US$4.6 billion.

Sri Lanka gives tax breaks for renewable energy

Sri Lanka has cut taxes on renewable energy equipment and given accelerated depreciation allowances for renewable energy investments and provided tax holiday for wood- based energy crops. Presenting a budget, the President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka wanted to reduce imported petroleum use and promote renewable energy. “In this background, it is necessary to encourage the exploration of remaining hydro potentials, solar and other renewable energy sources,” he said. Import taxes on renewable energy equipment not made in Sri Lanka will be cut and income tax reduced to 12 per cent. Profits from crops grown for wood-based energy will be exempt from income tax for 10 years. Industries investing in renewable energy, covering up to 30 per cent of their needs, will get lump sum depreciation for tax purposes.

Pakistan implements renewable energy programme

In Pakistan, the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA), in collaboration with the German organization GIZ, has enabled the country’s textile industry to save about PRs 400 million (US$ 4.1 million) annually by implementing the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Programme (REEEP). “As a result of our joint efforts in the textile sector, All Pakistan Textile Mills Association members have reported energy saving up to 83.5 million kWh per year,” REEEP Principal Advisor Mr. Bernhard Meyhofer stated.

Mr. Meyhofer showed keen interest to enhance the scope of mutual cooperation between SMEDA and GIZ for developing a more structured approach for existing activities by adding new areas, such as promoting renewable energy technologies in the industry as well as productive use of renewable energy. He offered to develop a formal certification system for energy managers and qualification criteria for energy service companies under the small and medium enterprise portfolio, while continuing with the Energy Management System application in different industrial sectors.

Republic of Korea to host Green Climate Fund

The Republic of Korea has been selected as the official host for the United Nations’ high-profile Green Climate Fund (GCF), and the Fund’s board has approved plans for a new headquarters in Incheon City. The government of the Republic of Korea announced that the country had been chosen to host the planned US$100 billion-a-year GCF after beating competition from Germany, Mexico, Namibia, Poland and Switzerland. The fund is widely seen as critical to efforts to get developing countries to support a new binding emissions reduction treaty, which is expected to be finalized by 2020.

The formation of GCF was agreed upon at last year’s United Nations climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, as a means of managing the annual US$100 billion climate-related funding that countries have committed to delivering by 2020. The board managing the development of the fund is yet to release proposals on how the funding will be raised, although it is understood to be looking at a wide range of different options, including the introduction of new levies on international shipping and aviation.

Richer nations have committed to provide billions of dollars of funding to assist poorer countries switch to cleaner technologies and adapt to unavoidable climate change impacts. The transfer remains highly controversial with some industrialized countries insisting that they cannot afford significant climate change aid programmes. Poorer countries and charities warn that the US$100 billion a year commitment falls too short of what will be required. Diplomats indicated that the selection of an emerging economy in the form of the Republic of Korea to host the fund could help to ease tensions between developing and industrialized economies.

China’s first tower-type solar-thermal power station

The first tower-type solar-thermal power station in Asia has been built in northwest Beijing. Mr. Wang Zhifeng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said the station is operating in stable condition, using a steam turbine generator to produce electricity. “The solar thermal power station will transform solar energy into heat energy to generate electricity,” Mr. Wang said, adding that the six-year programme has helped promote Chinese solar thermal power generation technology. Mr. Ma Guangcheng, Manager of the power station, said the station will reduce annual emissions of carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide by 2,336 t and 17.5 t, respectively compared with traditional thermal power stations.

Philippine wind power sector gets a boost

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has granted a US$500,000 technical assistance to the Philippines to promote and build the wind power generation capacity of the country under the Bank’s Quantum Leap in Wind Power programme. The target is to bring into commercial production promising climate change-related technologies. According to Energy Undersecretary Mr. Jose M. Layug Jr., the amount could be used for the revision of the existing wind energy roadmap, mapping wind resources, knowledge and capacity building, and pre-feasibility studies.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is planning to put up wind masts to measure the availability of wind in Cagayan, Aklan and Camarines Norte, where there are existing service contract holders, Mr. Layung disclosed. DOE is hoping that, with more data available, it could fetch a better work programme from prospective investors. However, it is still identifying the institution that would manage the data collection. The last study conducted on the country’s wind resources was the Philippine Wind Energy Resource Atlas prepared by the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2001. According to that study, the Philippines had 76,600 MW of total wind potential in six regions. DOE said it would add 2,345 MW of wind capacity by 2030 to remain as the leading wind energy producer in Southeast Asia.

Non-individual solar PV FiT quota release in Malaysia

Sustainable Energy Development Authority (Seda) Malaysia is opening 20 MW of non-individual solar photovoltaic (PV) feed-in tariff (FiT) quotas for installation (less than 500 kW) and will be made available for projects to be commissioned in 2013. Seda Malaysia Chairman Dr. Fong Chan Onn said that the quota for installation larger than 500 kW will be announced in 2013.

Seda Malaysia had received a total of 1,090 feed-in applications and approved 535 of them by the end of September 2012, Dr. Fong said. Approved applications from solar PV for individuals ranked the highest (362 applications). Seda Malaysia expects that some 1,684 GWh per year of energy will get generated through these – enough to power 467,000 homes and avoid 1.16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

On the solar home rooftop programme, Dr. Fong said a further 6 MW would be assigned for the first half of 2013. Since the rolling out of the 2,000 solar home rooftop programme on 24 September 2012, extra quotas for the solar PV for individuals were allocated, and specifically 2 MW was assigned to the second half of 2012. The people can participate in the programme and contribute towards generating clean electricity for the country, Dr. Fong stated.

Indonesia seeks big jump in renewable energy output

Renewable sources would provide Indonesia with as much as 25 per cent of its electricity by 2025, up from the current 7 per cent, said Dr. Djadjang Sukarna, Secretary of the nation’s New Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Directorate. By 2025, the country plans to increase annual electricity generation from renewable sources to 99 million tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) from the current 10 million toe, Dr. Sukarna said. By then, its energy mix will be 74 per cent fossil fuels and 26 per cent renewable, he said.

In the coming decade, an additional annual supply of 5,500 MW would be needed to achieve an economic growth greater than the current 6 per cent. The energy supply has to grow by about 8-9 per cent to sustain economic growth of above 6.5 per cent, Dr. Sukarna stated. Indonesia wants geothermal to provide 9,750 MW of electricity a year by 2025, from around 1,200 MW at present. The country’s current hydroelectric capacity is around 5,700 MW, while electricity from biomass produces 1,600 MW and wind and solar less than 17 MW, he said.

With a potential to generate 29,000 MW, Indonesia is thought to have 40 per cent of the world’s total geothermal potential. However, the sector remains underdeveloped owing to lack of investments. Foreign investors cite confusing government regulations and lack of scientific data among the problems. The government is implementing feed-in tariffs and other measures to attract investment and is awarding 19 geothermal projects with a capacity of 2,300 MW, Dr. Sukarna said.

Thailand to drive the region’s solar market

Total cumulative solar installations in Southeast Asia are forecast to reach almost 5 GW by 2016, says an analysis by IMS Research of the solar markets in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Singapore and the Philippines. The market research institute believes that the region will grow at 50 per cent per year on average over the next five years, providing an attractive market for ailing suppliers in Europe. Installations have been dominated hitherto by Thailand. However, other nations are also forecast to quickly capture significant shares of the market. While the region accounted for less than 1 per cent of global installations in 2011, its share is forecast to increase by more than four times by 2016. In addition, annual installations are forecast to grow by 50 per cent a year on average for the next five years and expected to exceed 1 GW by 2015.

Thailand would be the fifth largest market in Asia in 2012 after China, Japan, India and Australia. Rapid growth in Thailand has been driven by the attractive Adder incentives, which has resulted in several large ground-mount systems being completed. With an incentive scheme to promote smaller rooftop systems expected in 2013, the market share of utility-scale systems in Thailand is forecast to fall by 25 per cent by 2016. Indonesia too is expected to make its mark by adding 1 GW of solar in the coming four years.


All-carbon solar cells for cheap solar panels

Utilizing a grab bag of novel nanomaterials, researchers at Stanford University, the United States, have built the first all-carbon solar cells. Their carbon photovoltaics (PV) do not generate much electricity, but as the technology is perfected, all-carbon cells could be inexpensive, printable, flexible, and tough enough to withstand extreme environments and weather. The goal is not to replace solar cells made from silicon and other inorganic materials, says Dr. Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineering professor at Stanford, who led the work. Rather, it is to fill new niches, she says.

Carbon is extremely tough – atom-thick graphene and long, thin carbon nanotubes are two of the strongest materials ever tested. Carbon PV might be sprayed on the sides of buildings, or rolled up and taken into the desert. Carbon in various forms can be printed to make transparent thin, flexible and even stretchable electronics. The three main parts of the carbon solar cells – a nanotube cathode and a graphene anode sandwiching an active layer made of nanotubes and buckyballs – were made by printing or evaporating from inks.

Making the cathode work was the trickiest part, says Dr. Bao – the researchers have had a hard time making carbon nanomaterials that collect electrons. The Stanford researchers solved the problem by picking the right flavour of nanotubes and giving them a chemical treatment. The all-carbon PV converts less than 1 per cent of the energy in light into electricity. Dr. Bao attributes part of the problem to the roughness of the carbon film, which trips up travelling charges, and says it should be possible to smooth it out by working on the processing methods. Carbon nanomaterials “are still relatively new materials,” says Dr. Bao. “There is a lot of research on how to control their properties and how to use them.”

Concentrator solar cells in new design

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel have developed a radically new design for a concentrator solar cell that, when irradiated from the side, generates solar conversion efficiencies that rival, and may eventually surpass, ultra-efficient photovoltaics. The new cell architecture developed at the David Ben-Gurion National Solar Research Centre at BGU can exceed an ultra-efficient 40 per cent conversion efficiency with intensities equal to 10,000 suns.

“Typically a concentrator solar cell comprises interdependent stacked materials connected in series, with significant associated fabrication difficulties and efficiency limitations,” explains Professor Jeffrey Gordon, a member of the Department of Solar Energy and Environmental Physics at BGU’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research. “Our new designs for concentrator photovoltaic cells comprise multiple tiers of semiconductor materials that are totally independent, and overcome numerous challenges in compiling the elements of even the most efficient solar cells,” he says.

The BGU invention also demonstrates the distinctly new possibility of exploiting common materials, such as silicon, previously deemed unsuitable under highly concentrated solar radiation. Tailoring the cells to edge (side) illumination reduces the cell internal resistance to negligible levels. This raises the solar concentration levels at which cell efficiency peaks to around 10,000 times ambient solar beam radiation, which is significantly higher than ever before.

New high-efficiency quantum dot solar cells

Scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the United States, have demonstrated the first solar cell with an external quantum efficiency (EQE, the measure of how many photons are converted into electrons within a device) that exceeds 100 per cent for photons with energies in the solar range. The researchers made use of a process named multiple exciton generation (MEG), so that every blue photon that is absorbed can create at least 30 per cent more electricity than other current technologies allow. MEG functions by efficiently splitting and using a greater portion of the energy in the higher-energy photons. The researchers demonstrated an EQE value of 114 per cent for 3.5 eV photons, proving the feasibility of this concept in a working device.

While conventional semiconductors produce only one electron from each photon, nanometre-sized crystalline materials such as quantum dots avoid this restriction and are being developed as promising photovoltaic materials. An increase in the efficiency comes from quantum dots harvesting energy that would be lost otherwise as heat in conventional semiconductors. The amount of heat loss is reduced, and the resulting energy is funnelled into creating more electrical current. “Since current solar cell technology is still too expensive to completely compete with non-renewable energy sources, this technology employing MEG demonstrates that the way in which scientists and engineers think about converting solar photons to electricity is constantly changing,” said Mr. Joseph Luther, a senior scientist at NREL.

“Blackest” silicon solar cell surface developed

Scientists at Natcore Technology, the United States, have developed what they call the “first black silicon solar cell”. Using scalable liquid phase deposition (LPD), the scientists developed the technology from wafer to cell. The silicon wafer is said to have a near-zero reflectivity. Natcore plans to partner with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the United States, under a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA). NREL and Natcore will work on using their technologies, particularly Natcore’s LPD technology, to reach or exceed record efficiency with the black silicon solar cells. Mr. Hao-Chih Yuan, NREL research scientist, noted, “A silicon surface, without proper coating, is detrimental to the energy conversion efficiency of the solar cell. It is not unusual to grow silicon dioxide coatings on black silicon surfaces for this purpose, but the growth is typically at very high temperatures. Natcore’s coating uses chemistry. They are the ones who can passivate a black silicon surface cheaply.”

New processes for cost-efficient solar cell production

At the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films (IST), Germany, researchers are designing new coating processes and thin layer systems aimed at lowering the production costs of solar cells drastically. The Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin layer (HIT) solar cells consist of a crystalline silicon absorber with additional thin layers of silicon. Until now, plasma-Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) was the process used to add these layers to the substrate: the reaction chamber is filled with silane and a crystalline silicon substrate. The plasma activates the gas, breaking apart the silicon-hydrogen bonds of silane. The now free silicon atoms and the silicon-hydrogen residues settle on the substrate surface. But there is a problem: the plasma only activates 10-15 per cent of the expensive silane gas; the remaining 85-90 per cent are lost, unused.

IST researchers have now replaced this process. Instead of using plasma, they activate the gas by hot wires to use almost all of the silane gas, and recover 85-90 per cent of the expensive gas. This reduces the overall manufacturing costs of the layers by more than 50 per cent, states Dr. Lothar Schäfer, Department Head at IST. The new system is the only one that coats the substrate continuously during the movement, as an “in-line process”, claims Dr. Schäfer. This is possible since the silicon film “grows up” on the surface about five times faster than with plasma CVD – and still with the same quality of layer. At this point, the researchers are coating a surface measuring 50 × 60 cm2; however, the process could be easily scaled up to the more common industry format of 1.4 m2.

The system technology is also far more easy than plasma-CVD, and therefore substantially cheaper. In addition, this process is suitable for thin film solar cells. With a degree of efficiency of slightly more than 10 per cent, the thin film solar cells have previously shown only a moderate pay-off. However, by tripling the solar cells the degree of efficiency has been spiked up considerably, and the cells made more cost-effective. Similarly, IST uses metal tiles, instead of the expensive ceramic tiles.

World record efficiency for solar cell technology

Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., China, has claimed a world record efficiency for its Pluto cell technology for a production cell using standard commercial-grade p-type silicon wafers. The Solar Energy Research Institute, Singapore, has independently confirmed 20.3 per cent efficiency of the improved Pluto cell technology, a significant improvement over the 19.6 per cent best cell efficiency of first generation Pluto cell technology. The incremental innovation in Pluto cell technology was developed by Suntech’s R&D team, jointly with the University of New South Wales, the United Kingdom. A key improvement in the new technology is the incorporation of high-efficiency characteristics of the Passivated Emitter with Rear Locally Diffused Cell (PERL) technology in the earlier Pluto cell manufacturing process. These act to improve the rear surface design cell, primarily by reducing the metal/silicon interface area while keeping the remaining area well-passivated. Suntech has introduced process changes to lessen the use of high temperatures.

A 10 MW offshore wind turbine

The Norwegian technology company Sway Turbine has developed an eye-catching 10 MW offshore wind turbine, named the ST10. The turbine employs a large diameter, direct drive, permanent magnet generator, which has an ironless stator core and a unique generator and blade rotor integration, according to Mr. Eystein Borgen, Sway Turbine’s Chief Technical Officer. “Obtaining a lower cost of energy is crucial for offshore wind to achieve the position this renewable energy source deserves in the total energy mix,” says Ms. Ingelise Arntsen, CEO of Sway Turbine. To obtain a low-weight and cost-effective design, the basic challenge of turbine up-scaling had to be overcome through several unusual design solutions. The ST10 offers an estimated 15-20 per cent reduction in turbine cost compared to current state-of-the-art, conventional design offshore wind turbines, and a considerable reduction in cost per kWh produced on wind park level. Contact: Ms. Ingelise Arntsen, CEO, Sway Turbine A/S, C. Sundts gate 51, 5004 Bergen, Norway. Tel: +47 55706500; Fax: +47 91317578; Website:


A 10 MW offshore wind turbine

The Norwegian technology company Sway Turbine has developed an eye-catching 10 MW offshore wind turbine, named the ST10. The turbine employs a large diameter, direct drive, permanent magnet generator, which has an ironless stator core and a unique generator and blade rotor integration, according to Mr. Eystein Borgen, Sway Turbine’s Chief Technical Officer. “Obtaining a lower cost of energy is crucial for offshore wind to achieve the position this renewable energy source deserves in the total energy mix,” says Ms. Ingelise Arntsen, CEO of Sway Turbine. To obtain a low-weight and cost-effective design, the basic challenge of turbine up-scaling had to be overcome through several unusual design solutions. The ST10 offers an estimated 15-20 per cent reduction in turbine cost compared to current state-of-the-art, conventional design offshore wind turbines, and a considerable reduction in cost per kWh produced on wind park level. Contact: Ms. Ingelise Arntsen, CEO, Sway Turbine A/S, C. Sundts gate 51, 5004 Bergen, Norway. Tel: +47 55706500; Fax: +47 91317578; Website:

Wind turbines ready for take-off

Like the wing of a propeller plane without a cockpit, a Makani Airborne Wind Turbine stirs the air in a California field where it is being tested to capture high-altitude wind power. The technology is still in its infancy, but the concept also gained support in a new study in the United States that focused on the steady, fast high-altitude currents. The study by scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology discovered that wind turbines placed on Earth’s surface could extract kinetic energy of at least 400 TW (trillion watts), while high-altitude wind power could extract more than 1,800 TW. The latter is about 100 times greater than the world’s current power demand, the scientists noted.

“The upshot is that air-borne wind starts to look a lot like solar power,” said Mr. Ken Caldeira, the study’s co-author and a senior climate researcher at Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution for Science. “It is a resource that is large relative to human demand, and harvesting it has to do with economics and engineering, not fundamental limitations of the resource,” he said. Research and development being done by Makani Power, the United States, and others is aimed at developing a cost-effective system to bring that high-flying energy down to Earth.

A turbine for lower wind resources

Kliux Energies, Spain, continues to expand its range of new products with its Kliux GEO 1800 wind turbine. The Kliux Geo 1800 vertical axis wind turbine is ideal for urban and residential environments, as well as for isolated locations with no connection to the electricity grid. It is 9 m in height, starts turning at wind speeds of 3.5 m/s and generates 3,513 kWh/year on its own and 9,170 kWh/year in the hybrid system – adequate to power one family house. Geo 1800 vertical axis wind turbine, which was developed by Geolica Innovations of Spain, also integrates into dual systems in combination with photovoltaic solar panels (hybrid).

The main differential advantages of Kliux Geo 1800 include excellent integration in urban residential environments thanks to its aerodynamic design and absence of noise. Direct applications may be in condominiums, houses, hotels, cottage accommodations and walkways. Kliux Energies offer technical services to study and analyse wind data and energy requirements of a client to determine the right size for a project. Furthermore, Kliux offers the possibility to finance up to 100 per cent of “turnkey” projects in select locations. Contact: Kliux Energies, C/ Diego Velázquez 5, 26007 Logroño (La Rioja), Spain. Tel: +34 (941) 102410; E-mail: info@kliux. com; Website:

Wind turbine with an improved design

DARWIND5, a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) designed by Harvistor, Canada, comes with a promise of harvesting more energy than existing models for small-scale wind power generation. According to the company, recent tests showed that its technology can achieve 35 per cent more kilowatt hours per year than current VAWTs for the same sweep area, besides operating at 25 per cent lower heights than similarly priced market leaders. A new type of rotor blade telemetry and geometry has boosted the performance of DARWIND5. This translates into new airfoil shapes, which allow the rotor system to completely avoid power-robbing dynamic stall, a reaction that transpires when airfoils rapidly change the angle of attack.

Individually, each rotor has a longer power stroke than earlier thought possible because the new airfoil shape flies upside down and right side up during key parts of rotation, like a full loop in aerobatics. During rotation, the lift forces change twice from moving away from the shaft to moving towards the shaft, making for the longer stroke. All of these forces occur on the windward side of the turbine – any turbulence exits on the leeward side, where it does not affect the turbine. This avoids individual torque peaks, which are a major cause of wind turbine breakdowns. With capacity under ideal conditions ranging between 500 W and 1.5 kW in a 1.2 m working diameter, DARWIND5 operates at 4 m to 24 m per second speed.

Certification for wind turbine prototype

GL Renewables Certification, based in Germany, has awarded a prototype certification to the SWT-6.0-154 wind turbine by Siemens Wind Power, Germany. The prototype is a 6 MW direct-drive, offshore wind turbine equipped with what are at present the world’s longest rotor blades – each blade measures 75 m in length. With a record rotor diameter of 154 m, each SWT-6.0-154 turbine can produce 25 million kWh of clean electricity in offshore locations, adequate to supply power to 6,000 households. Field testing of the turbine was held in Denmark in October 2012. The Prototype Certificate confirms the compliance of the wind turbine design with the requirements of the Executive Order from the Danish Energy Authority No. 651, which asks for a plausibility verification of a prototype on the basis of the design documentation.

Spiral wind turbine system does well

A spiral wind turbine system developed by Cleveland State University (CSU), the United States, and being tested is performing better than expected. The four mounted turbines are generating more than 4.5 times the energy that would have been generated by stand-alone turbines, according to data collected by CSU. “In terms of the fluid mechanics aspects of the device, it is doing exactly what we predicted,” said Mr. Majid Rashidi, Chairman of CSU’s Department of Engineering Technology who developed the system. “Usually theory and practice don’t match,” he comments.

The turbines, with five blades in each disc, are each 213 cm across and are fixed on the sides of the spiral, which rises to 12 m. The spiral is mounted on a 1,360 kg aluminium frame, covered with white plastic pieces to form a helix. The theory of Mr. Rashidi was that the structure would deflect wind into the turbine, creating more energy. Mr. Rashidi later revised his concept, including reconfiguring the cylinder to look like an ice cream cone with a twist.

In his quarterly technical performance report submitted to the United States Department of Energy in July 2012, Mr. Rashidi reported that at a wind speed of 4.9 m/s, the tower’s four turbines generated 1,288 W of energy, compared with a combined 200 W of energy that would be generated by four stand-alone turbines, as calculated by turbine manufacturer. A wind speed of 8 m/s generated 6,143 W of energy from CSU’s tower structure, compared with just 1,412 W from four stand-alone turbines. The report said the results show the average electrical power generated by the spiral turbine was 4.64 times as much as conventional turbines. “That is what the spiral does to the wind,” Mr. Rashidi said. “It funnels more air.” The turbine is expected to generate about 40,000 kWh per year, roughly the amount of energy for powering four homes.

Flexible, scalable wind turbine system

In the United States, Asahi Kasei Plastics N.A. Inc. is working with Unified Energies International Inc. in the development of a wind turbine to bring affordable renewable energy to the masses. The rooftop or pole-mounted Windstrument™ is an economical, quiet and powerful, bird-safe, scalable wind turbine system. It was developed for residential as well as utility scale projects. One can start with one turbine and add more turbines per pole as the power needs grow – without the cost, time or materials waste of new pole construction. Windstrument can be placed on any utility pole or retrofit to other wind turbine poles.

The shape of the turbine is conical helicoid, which claimed to be “the most energy efficient, energy generative and durable pattern in existence”. The unique sail shape also allows the Windstrument to function in turbulent wind conditions. The blade develops a cushion of air along its surface. Oncoming wind actually flows over this air cushion. This natural flow dynamic creates a smoothing effect, eliminating all vibrations. The Windstrument is also completely self-directing – naturally rotating to meet the wind. There is no ‘backwash’ of air into the blades and so the turbine is safe for birds.


The world’s first commercial-scale tidal energy turbine

Marine Current Turbines (MCT), the United Kingdom, has successfully completed the first installation phase of the 1.2 MW SeaGen Tidal System into the fast-flowing waters of Strangford Narrows in Northern Ireland, approximately 400 m from the shoreline. When fully operational, SeaGen’s 16 m diameter, twin rotors will operate for up to 18-20 hours per day to produce enough clean, green electricity, equivalent to that used by 1,000 homes. This is four times greater than any other tidal stream project so far built.

The installation work is being overseen by MCT’s in-house engineering team and managed by marine engineering specialists SeaRoc Ltd., the United Kingdom. The quadruped section that sits on the seabed will now be pin-piled. Each of the four pins that secure SeaGen will be drilled to a depth of around 9 m. SeaGen will enter commercial operation after a commissioning phase of about 12 weeks and supply electricity to the local grid. Contact: Mr. Martin Wright, Managing Director, Marine Current Turbines, Bristol & Bath Science Park, Dirac Crescent, Emersons Green, Bristol BS16 7FR, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 (117) 979 1888; E-mail:

Prototype of wave power generator developed

Bodkin Design & Engineering LLC, the United States, has developed a prototype wave harvesting system capable of generating power from ocean energy found in coastal waters. The fully submerged, robust, self-contained design is anti-fouling and ideally suited for surf zone operation where extreme environmental conditions could damage systems that rely on deployed arms, floats or fragile mechanics.

A prototype unit was constructed and tested, and was found to have a power conversion efficiency between 34 per cent and 50 per cent. This covert system is designed to be alternative power source for submerged sensors and systems. In addition to its military uses, this submerged system can find application on pleasure boats and in commercial moorings. Contact: Ms. Deborah Medalia, Bodkin Design & Engineering LLC, 77 Oak Street, Suite 201, Newton, Massachusetts, MA 02464, United States of America. Tel: +1 (617) 795 1968; Fax: +1 (617) 795 1969; E-mail:

New ocean wave energy harvesting systems

In the United States, Electro Standards Laboratories collaborated with University of Rhode Island (URI) to develop and test two new systems to energize remote ocean sensor buoys: Direct Drive System (DDS) and Resonant Drive System (RDS). The technology employs small electric generators that are driven either directly or resonantly via a surface buoy’s wave-induced heave motion. Scale model testing has been performed in the URI Department of Ocean Engineering wave tank as well as at the mouth of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay.

Both configurations provide reliable operation without the need for additional gearing and have the ability to harness electrical power in the 1-10 W range in small sea states. The DDS provides power from the differential motion between the buoy float and a submerged resistant plate. The buoy response in the DDS is designed to match a wide range of expected ocean wave spectrum-based on the deployment location. The direct drive of the system with wave motion results in broad band response with high efficiency. Other benefits of this system include low acoustic noise and stealth operation.

The RDS amplifies the generator’s armature motion at the peak period of the sea state. The buoy response in the RDS too is designed to match the expected ocean wave spectrum based on the deployment location. The benefits of the resonant system include enhanced functionality, higher performance and continuous operation. The buoy is completely sealed with no external moving parts. Electro Standards’ model simulations have shown good agreement with scale model tests. This small buoy sensor system generates and accumulates energy that can be used to indefinitely power remote buoys equipped with sensor arrays as well as electronics needed for processing and communications. Contact: Dr. Raymond Sepe, Jr., Scientist, Ocean Wave Energy Harvesting Programme, Electro Standards Laboratories, #36 Western Industrial Drive, Cranston, Rhode Island, United States of America. Tel: +1 (401) 943 1164; E-mail:


New nanoparticles developed for better fuel cell operation

A research team from the Cornell Energy Materials Centre (CEMC) at Cornell University, the United States, believes that fuel cells can operate more efficiently through the use of a platinum-cobalt catalyst that it developed. The team has made a significant breakthrough in this endeavour by developing a chemical process that is capable of producing platinum-cobalt nanoparticles encased in a platinum enriched shell.

Computer simulations of these new platinum-cobalt nanoparticles show that they have the ability to improve the catalytic activity occurring within a fuel cell. This could mean that fuel cells using a catalyst derived from this material could be capable of producing significantly more electrical power. It could also mean that these fuel cells will be much less expensive than their conventional counterparts because they use significantly less platinum. Tests show that the nanoparticles boast of nearly three and a half times higher catalytic activity than other particles that would be used to replace platinum in fuel cells. The researchers claim that this is because of the nanoparticle’s “ordered” structure, which allows for higher levels of efficiency when compared to the typical “disordered” structure of other particles.

Scalable microbial fuel cell patented

Xerox Corp., the United States, has secured patent on a scalable microbial fuel cell (MFC) and method of its manufacture. The MFC includes a cell housing having a first and a second chamber. The first chamber is adapted for containing a fluid that includes a biomass. The second chamber is adapted for containing an oxygenated fluid. A cathode extends into the second chamber. The MFC has an electrode assembly that includes a bound segment and an anode segment extending into the first chamber. The electrode assembly has multiple, substantially aligned, fibres. The outer surfaces of the fibres of the anode segment are adapted for receiving a biofilm. An electrically conductive tubular member envelops the fibres of the bound segment.

Fuel-cell powered lighting system

A hydrogen fuel-cell powered lighting package has been launched by the engineering firm BOC, based in the United Kingdom. This addition to the Hymera family of hydrogen fuel cell products from BOC is aimed for use at locations that cannot connect to grid electricity. These include areas where welding, machining, on-site maintenance or repair is being carried out, or for outdoor temporary events. The package uses high-efficiency, low-wattage lamps with an output equivalent to two 300 W halogen lamps.

BOC says the system has significant advantages over both battery-powered or diesel/petrol generator alternatives. When compared with generator performance, the Hymera emits no carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx) or particulates. It produces water vapour, as hydrogen and oxygen are combined in the process of releasing electrical energy. A single cylinder of hydrogen weighing just 10 kg will keep the lights running for nearly 24 hours, BOC claims. The system is an alternative for off-grid lighting applications that lasts much longer between refuelling/recharging than batteries, but is cleaner and quieter than diesel or petrol generators. It is easily transportable and can be set up and made operational within minutes.

Inexpensive fuel cell catalyst developed

Scientists have developed a novel non-platinum catalyst that could pave the way for cheaper and more durable hydrogen fuel cells for use in cars and other devices. Chemists at Brown University in Rhode Island, the United States, have developed a cobalt-graphene combination catalyst that works a bit slower than traditional platinum catalysts, but is longer-lasting and more sustainable – overcoming the key drawbacks of platinum. Mr. Shouheng Sun and his team developed what they claim is the best non-platinum catalyst yet using a graphene sheet covered by cobalt and cobalt-oxide nanoparticles.

The new catalyst material “has the best reduction performance of any non-platinum catalyst,” said post-doctoral researcher Mr. Shaojun Guo. Laboratory tests performed by the research team showed that the new graphene-cobalt material was a bit slower than platinum in getting the oxygen reduction reaction started, but once the reaction was going, it actually reduced oxygen at a faster pace than platinum. The new catalyst also proved to be more stable, degrading much more slowly than platinum over time. After about 17 hours of testing, the graphene-cobalt catalyst was performing at ~70 per cent of its initial capacity. The platinum catalyst tested performed at less than 60 per cent after the same amount of time.

New product lines for microbial fuel cells

ElectroChem Inc., the United States, has launched two new product lines to facilitate researchers in developing microbial fuel cells (MFCs). H-cell, defined according to the shape of the cell, can be used as reactor and other electrochemical cells. The H-cell has a volume of 100 mL on each side of the chamber when assembled. The compact design of the H-cell is especially suitable for proof-of-concept studies in getting initial results efficiently. The product is suitable for using various substrates – such as basal medium, M9 medium, other bacteria growth medium, wastewater or organic liquid from nature, natural sea water, etc. The two chambers are connected in the middle with a big aperture hole, which has the advantage of less mass transport limitation in ion-exchange. Each chamber has three openings to provide flexibility in doing multiple tasks at the same time, such as adding circulation pipes, culture injection and gas purging during testing.

The MFC testing kit contains syringes (1 mL, 10 mL, 30 mL), sterilized petri dish, Corning 50 mL sterile centrifuge tube, inoculating loop, 25 G needles, polyethersulfone (PES) filter for collecting micro-organisms in sample, 0.2 µm sterile nitrocellulose liquid filter to prevent contamination of micro-organisms from liquid phase, and 0.2 µm sterile polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) membrane syringe gas filter to prevent contamination of micro-organisms from gas phase. Contact: ElectroChem Inc., #400 West Cummings Park, Woburn, MA 01801, United States of America. Tel: +1 (781) 938 5300; Fax: +1 (781) 935 6966; E-mail:

Low-cost hydrogen fuel cells

ACAL Energy Ltd. from the United Kingdom has announced that it has developed the world’s first low-cost, high-performance hydrogen fuel cell. While hydrogen fuel cells often garner acclaim for their ability to produce high levels of electrical power, they are often criticized because of their high cost. Fuel cells are expensive to produce because of their use of platinum catalyst, and costs of manufacture translate directly to consumers and businesses. ACAL Energy seems to have succeeded in finding a way around the vexing cost issue without sacrificing any of the performance hydrogen fuel cells have become well known for. ACAL Energy has accomplished this feat through the use of a patented catalyst technology and a novel cell architecture. The catalysts used by the company require 80 per cent less platinum than the conventional models, significantly reducing the cost of fuel cells. The company has spent eight years developing its catalyst technology and has made such progress that it is now ready to license the technology to major automakers in the world.

Super-efficient hydrogen fuel cell

In Japan, the semiconductor company ROHM has worked in collaboration with Aquafairy Corporation, a fuel cell manufacturer, and Kyoto University on the development of a high-efficiency fuel cell specifically designed for smart phones. The fuel cells weigh around one-fourth the equivalent lithium-ion batteries and yet hold the same capacity. ROHM claims that with the weight significantly reduced, and the efficiency and safety increased, the fuel cells are far more effective and useful than the current battery technology used in portable devices.

The high efficiency of the fuel cells means that they have a life-span of about 20 years, far outstripping the 3-5 years of the lithium-ion batteries. The hydrogen fuel cells are compact and can operate at ambient temperatures, making them suitable for use in smartphone chargers, tablet personal computers, emergency backup power supplies, etc. ROHM has three versions of the fuel cell, which it is testing for reliability before the product launch in April 2013. One is for smart phones and other portable devices, and has a capacity of 5 W/h, the other has a capacity of 200 W/h and will be used as a portable generator, and the last will have a capacity of 400 W/h.


Natural method to produce hydrogen

In Germany, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (MPI CEC) and the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have discovered, through investigations of a hydrogen-producing enzyme using spectroscopy, that the environment of the catalytic site acts as an electron reservoir in the enzyme. Thus, it can very efficiently produce hydrogen, which has great potential as a renewable energy source. The system analysed constitutes an enzyme that catalyses the formation and conversion of hydrogen. It has at its centre a double-iron core, and is therefore also called [FeFe] hydrogenase. Hydrogenases are of great interest for energy research, since they can efficiently produce hydrogen.

In hydrogen production, two electrons get together with two protons. The research team showed that, as expected, the first electron is initially transferred to the iron centre of the enzyme. The second transfer, however, is to an iron-sulphur cluster that is located in the periphery. It thus forms a temporary storage for the second electron. This “super-reduced” state may be responsible for the extremely high efficiency of the hydrogenase. Subsequently, both electrons are transferred in one step from the enzyme to the protons, so that hydrogen is generated. “Only the use of two different spectroscopic techniques made the discovery possible,” says Ms. Agnieszka Adamska, an MPI CEC doctoral student who carried out the spectroscopic studies.

“Up to 10,000 molecules of hydrogen per second can be generated by a single [FeFe] centre,” says Ms. Camilla Lambertz, a post-doctoral researcher at RUB who prepared the biological samples for the project. The enzyme is thus among the most efficient hydrogenases and is being intensively investigated by scientists to achieve environmentally friendly hydrogen production. The complete mechanism of hydrogen formation is, however, complex and several steps need to be clarified. Next, the researchers aim to use sensitive spectroscopic methods to locate the proton to which the two electrons are transferred. This negatively charged hydrogen atom (hydride) reacts with another proton to form hydrogen. Inspired by the [FeFe] hydrogenase, the researchers would like to develop their own hydrogen-producing catalysts that could be used for hydrogen generation.

Nanocrystals produce hydrogen using sunlight

A team of researchers at the University of Rochester, the United States, led by Mr. Todd Krauss has developed a new photochemical hydrogen generating system made of cadmium selenide (CdSe) quantum dots, nickel salt catalysts and ascorbic acid. The CdSe quantum dots absorb two photons of sunlight and transfer two electrons to the nickel catalyst. The two remaining protons combine to produce one hydrogen molecule, explained Mr. Krauss. The system lasts for several weeks and, in water, has a quantum efficiency of 36 per cent. If the surrounding solution is a mix of water and ethanol, this efficiency increases to 66 per cent – highest values ever observed for such solution-based systems.

The research team said that their catalyst-nanocrystal pairs are better than previous artificial photosynthesis nanoparticle systems because they are more stable to sunlight, although the reason for this is not yet known. According to them, such a clean source of hydrogen could not only find applications in green energy, but also in industry, for instance, in the Haber process for producing ammonia. The only snag is that the ascorbic acid (which acts as an electron donor) gets used up and needs regular replenishment during each hydrogen production cycle. The researchers are also looking at other nanoparticle systems to try out and hope to find a way to replace the sacrificial ascorbic acid molecule with electrons.

Hydrogen generation from sunlight, water and rust

Researchers at Switzerland’s École polytechnique fédérale de Lausann (EPFL) have developed an inexpensive device that transforms sunlight into hydrogen, for storage and later use. The new prototype makes use of sunlight, water and metal oxides, including iron oxide. The new research led by Mr. Kevin Sivula was focused on constructing a prototype from affordable materials and techniques. “The most expensive material in our device is the glass plate,” explains Mr. Sivula.

The EPFL prototype is completely self-contained and uses electrons stimulated by sunlight to break up water molecules, reforming the resulting pieces into oxygen and hydrogen. This is achieved with a dual system working in tandem: an oxide-based semiconductor performs the oxygen evolution reaction, while a dye-sensitized cell liberates the all-important hydrogen. The iron oxide used is a little more complex than rust – it has been treated with a nanometre layer of aluminium oxide and cobalt oxide – both of which are easy to apply, but increase the electrochemical properties of the rust markedly.

At this early stage of development, the performance of the rust-based device is still relatively inefficient, making it impractical for widespread use. “The efficiency is still low – between 1.4 per cent and 3.6 per cent, depending on the prototype used. But the technology has great potential. With our less expensive concept based on iron oxide, we hope to be able to attain efficiencies of 10 per cent in a few years, for less than US$80/square metre. At that price, we will be competitive with traditional methods of hydrogen production,” said Mr. Sivula.

Hydrogen purification and storage process

In Japan, a partnership between Kobe Steel Limited and Tsukuba University has developed a novel hydrogen purification and storage process (COA-MIB Process) that is compact, easy to start up and shut down on a daily basis, and highly responsive to load variations. Kobe Steel has already operated a 100 NL/h compact system on a trial basis for over 750 hours without deterioration. It has also achieved an 85 per cent hydrogen recovery rate utilizing 3 Nm3/h bench-scale equipment and is currently moving towards commercialization. Results indicate that it would be possible to supply pure hydrogen at a high recovery rate of at least 88 per cent on a daily-start-stop (DSS) basis.

As this process would make it possible to flexibly manufacture and store hydrogen, so that it could be supplied to fuel cells without requiring a large-scale hydrogen network, there are high hopes that it could contribute to the creation of a hydrogen society. Using pure hydrogen fuel cells as batteries would resolve the issue of instability throughout the power system, which may otherwise result from an influx of natural energy from unstable sources such as solar cells and wind power.

New catalyst could make hydrogen fuel storage feasible

There are several issues that face hydrogen fuel that have prevented its widespread adoption. Storage, production and the efficiency of fuel cell energy systems are among the most significant of the challenges facing hydrogen fuel. Researchers from the German University of Rostock may have found a solution to the storage and production issues of hydrogen fuel with the development of a new catalyst and its use of methanol. The researchers, led by chemical engineer Mr. Matthias Beller, have developed a new catalyst that can efficiently produce hydrogen from methanol. The catalyst is based on ruthenium, a chemical element that is associated with the platinum group of metals. Methanol can be used as an effective means of storing hydrogen as a liquid. Researchers note that the catalyst can extract hydrogen from methanol efficiently on demand, overcoming the issue of hydrogen fuel storage.

Conventional hydrogen fuel storage methods require a large amount of energy. Both solid-state and gaseous storage methods require hydrogen to either be highly pressurized or stored at very low temperatures. The new catalyst is capable of extracting hydrogen from methanol at relatively average temperatures and at ambient pressures. Scaling up the catalyst is currently the most difficult challenge the researchers face with their novel catalyst. If the catalyst can be scaled up, it could have significant implications for the adoption of hydrogen fuel and its use as a renewable energy. University of Rostock researchers are very hopeful that they can accomplish this in the coming months, but they need to first find appropriate materials that can be used to scale-up the catalyst.

Synthetic fuel made from air and water

Air Fuel Synthesis, the United Kingdom, has started producing petrol directly from air and water. Using carbon capture technology to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere, and electrolysis to crack water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, the company’s process combines the hydrogen and CO2 to produce synthetic petrol or other fuels.

Plant-based and microbial methods of producing fuel are considered relatively clean, since the carbon in them was atmospheric. This process short-circuits that even further by directly extracting the CO2 from the air and synthetically creating the gasoline replacement. In addition to the direct atmospheric carbon extraction, the new process also uses renewable energy to power electrolysis, so that the carbon debt is not merely transferred. Although the feedstock is free, the other costs of the process are likely too high for this to be an immediate replacement for oil drilling and refining, at least in the short term. The process has been able to produce a small quantity of fuel in its test facility, yielding just 5 L in two months. But cost and capacity are issues that can be improved as the method is developed and scaled up.


Efficient, scalable process for renewable liquid fuels

Using simple technology developed primarily for producing electricity from hydrogen, a team of researchers from University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UM-A) and University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M), the United States, and Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, the Republic of Korea, has developed what could be a commercially viable, continuous process for converting biomass into renewable liquid transportation fuels. Mr. George Huber, a UM-A professor of chemical and biological engineering, and his collaborators have demonstrated the conversion of the model biomass compound acetone into isopropanol using a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell.

The advance paves the way for the conversion of biomass molecules such as glucose into hexanes – significant components of petrol currently derived by refining crude oil. “Essentially, we are making renewable liquid fuel that fits into the existing infrastructure,” says Mr. Huber. Unlike other technologies that use large quantities of expensive hydrogen gas to convert biomass to fuel, the new process is driven by electrical energy stored as chemical energy. A fuel cell converts chemical energy into electrical energy, or vice versa. Reactions in a PEM fuel cell require just water, electricity and the biomass-derived molecule.

To reduce biomass molecules into fuel, Mr. Huber’s team feeds water into the anode side and passes an electric current through the water to generate protons and electrons. The electrons run through a circuit and the protons pass through the PEM to the cathode side, where they generate hydrogen. The hydrogen reacts with the biomass molecule and reduces it to fuel, while oxygen exits the system. The team demonstrated the biomass-to-biofuel reduction process in a continuous-flow reactor, which continuously and efficiently moves reactants through the system. Another advantage is that the process yields 50 per cent more liquid fuel over ethanol fermentation processes.

Diesel to be made from sugar

Scientists at University of California-Berkeley, the United States, have found that a long-forgotten fermentation process once used to turn starch into explosives can be used to produce renewable diesel. The scientists produced diesel fuel from the products of a bacterial fermentation process discovered nearly 100 years ago by the first President of Israel, chemist Mr. Chaim Weizmann. The retooled process produces a mix of products that contain more energy per unit volume than ethanol that is used today in transportation fuels. While the fuel’s cost is higher than the one made from fossil fuels, the process would reduce drastically greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, one of the major contributors to global climate change.

The Weizmann process employs the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum to ferment sugars into acetone, butanol and ethanol. The researchers developed a way of extracting the acetone and butanol from the fermentation mixture while leaving most of the ethanol behind. They also developed a catalyst that converted the acetone-butanol-ethanol brew into a mix of long-chain hydrocarbons that resembles the combination of hydrocarbons in diesel fuel. In tests, the fuel burned about as well as normal petroleum-based diesel fuel. “It looks very compatible with diesel, and can be blended like diesel to suit summer or winter driving conditions in different states,” said co-author Mr. Harvey Blanch. The process is versatile enough to utilize a broad range of renewable starting materials, from corn sugar (glucose) and cane sugar (sucrose) to starch, and would work with non-food feed-stocks like grass, trees or field waste in cellulosic processes.

Bio-ethanol process being patented

Leaf Energy, an Australian clean technology company, is patenting a new process for the pre-treatment of cellulosic biomass for producing bio-ethanol. The patent application “Methods for Converting Lignocellulosic Material to Useful Products” (Glycerol Bio-refinery Process) describes the process developed at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Leaf Energy plans to profile the Glycerol Bio-refinery Process in a pilot-scale demonstration of cellulosic ethanol production from sugar cane bagasse, set to be the first major pilot-scale production of any second generation biofuel in Australia.

Biofuel production from waste agricultural biomass requires an integrated process that starts with the breaking down (pre-treatment) of the fibre, conversion of the pre-treated fibre into sugars and the subsequent production of ethanol. There are a number of pre-treatment processes that are effective at breaking down fibre, but most require high temperatures, resulting in high energy use and the production of sugar degradation compounds that inhibit the subsequent fermentation. Further, in many pre-treatment processes, the chemicals used are expensive.

The Glycerol Bio-refinery Process overcomes these issues by being effective at temperatures much lower than most other pre-treatments. At these lower temperatures, energy use is reduced and loss of sugars to degradation products is greatly reduced. Data in the patent specification for the process shows that after 24 hours, the process liberates over 90 per cent of the digestible cellulose in the feedstock. These results have been successfully repeated at pilot scale, at the Mackay Renewable Bio-commodities pilot plant operated by Queensland University of Technology.

Quick-cook method turns algae into oil

Researchers in Michigan Engineering, the United States, “pressure-cook” algae for as little as a minute and transform an unprecedented 65 per cent of the algae into bio-crude. “We are trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms,” stated Mr. Phil Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and a professor of chemical engineering at University of Michigan, the United States. The marine organism of Mr. Savage’s choice is the green micro-alga of the genus Nannochloropsis.

To make the biocrude, Mr. Savage and colleagues filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 mL of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into sand at 593°C. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae’s temperature would have been less than 300°C, before the team pulled the reactor out. The scientists are not sure why the one-minute result is so much better. “My guess is that the reactions that produce biocrude are actually must faster than previously thought,” Mr. Savage said.

Previously, Mr. Savage’s team had heated the algae for times ranging from 10-90 minutes. They saw their best results – about half of the algae converted to biocrude – after treating it for 10-40 minutes at 299°C. The team points out that shorter reaction times mean that the reactors don’t have to be large and therefore could be less expensive. Current commercial manufacturers of algae-based fuel first dry the algae before extracting the natural oil. One of the advantages of the wet method is that it doesn’t just extract the existing fat from the algae; it also breaks down proteins and carbohydrates. The method did this so successfully that the oil contained about 90 per cent of the energy in the original algae.

Biofuel conversion process cuts costs

Using a biomass-derived solvent, chemical and biological engineers at University of Wisconsin-Madison, the United States, have streamlined the process for converting lignocellulosic biomass into high-demand chemicals or energy-dense liquid transportation fuel. Their new method eliminates the need for costly pre-treatment steps that separate hemicellulose and cellulose, two main components of plant biomass. The pre-treatment and extraction or separation steps can account for up to 30 per cent of the total capital cost of a biofuels production plant.

The “magic potion” that enables the researchers to simultaneously process hemicellulose and cellulose, with significantly different physical and chemical properties, is gamma-valerolactone (GVL). Essentially, the team is exploiting the power of GVL to produce GVL, an inexpensive, yet energy-dense, drop-in biofuel. It is also an ideal solvent for biomass conversion as it is already a product of the conversion process. Water, used by current processes, leads to low rates and low yields of desired products, says Mr. James Dumesic, the Steenbock Professor and Michel Boudart Professor of chemical and biological engineering.

GVL expands the optimal conditions for separately processing cellulose and hemicellulose. As a result, the optimal conditions overlap, enabling the researchers to process both – with high yields – under the same conditions. In a single reactor, the researchers can convert hemicellulose to furfural and cellulose to levulinic acid. The researchers can separate the furfural through distillation during the reaction or they can convert, through a series of steps, furfural to levulinic acid – a desirable value-added biochemical used to make solvents and fuel additives. Levulinic acid can be upgraded to other platform molecules, including GVL.


Solar Photovoltaic Projects in the Mainstream Power Market

This book contains case studies of the Waldpolenz Energy Park, Germany, Lopburi Solar Plant in Thailand and what will be the world’s largest photovoltaic (PV) plant, the Topaz Solar Farm in California, the United States. It also has interviews from leading figures in the PV industry. Contents cover: planning and structuring projects; siting, planning and connection issues; building and operating projects; technology basics; economies of PV; history and business of PV; financing and regulation; and technical aspects of system design.

Contact: Bookpoint, 130 Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4SB, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 (1235) 400 400; Fax: +44 (1235) 400 401; E-mail:

Renewable Energy Resources: 2nd Edition

Retaining the successful format of the first edition and building on its solid grounding in the principles of renewable energy resources, this second edition has been revised in line with the latest advances in the field to include new technologies and an assessment of their impact. Considering each technology in depth from both scientific and environmental perspectives, it covers solar energy, photovoltaic, wind, wave, tidal and hydro power, biofuels, geothermals and more, as well as features a new chapter on institutional factors, including economics.

Contact: Bookpoint, 130 Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4SB, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 (1235) 400 400; Fax: +44 (1235) 400 401; E-mail:

Desert Energy: A Guide to the Technology, Impacts and Opportunities

This book examines the key technologies being deployed in an effort to tap the potential presented by world’s deserts for siting large-scale solar power applications, and surveys the feasibility of such projects given the remoteness and the hostility of these environments. Focusing on large-scale photovoltaics and concentrating solar thermal power, it explains how the systems work, the required scales and the technical difficulties they need to overcome to function effectively. It then examines the economics and the social and environmental effects of such projects. The book is a must-read for all those who are interested in the development of large-scale solar applications.

Contact: Bookpoint, 130 Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4SB, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 (1235) 400 400; Fax: +44 (1235) 400 401; E-mail:


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