UFTO NOTES 2003
05 Nov 2003 UFTO Note -- Cost-Effective Dimmable Fluorescent Ballast
19 Oct 2003 UFTO Note - Short Subjects
17 Sep 2003 UFTO Note - DOE Office of Electric Transmission & Distribution (OETD)
01 Sep 2003 UFTO Note - Humid Air Injection Boosts CT Output
16 Jul 2003 UFTO Note - Update on Alchemix HydroMax
06 Jul 2003 UFTO Note - Bicarb Cleans Up Stack Gas Emissions
26 Jun 2003 UFTO Note - Non-Thermal Plasma H2, no CO2
23 Jun 2003 UFTO Note - Firefly Re-invents the Lead Acid Battery
11 Jun 2003 UFTO Note - Energy Efficiency as a Resource
30 May 2003 UFTO Note - DOE H2&FC Reviews'03
19 May 2003 UFTO Note - Cleantech Venture Forum II
12 May 2003 UFTO Note - New New Solar PV
02 Apr 2003 UFTO Note - Photolytic Hydrogen from Sunlight
21 Mar 2003 UFTO Note - T&D R&D Gaining Attention
18 Mar 2003 UFTO Note - Preheat Standby Diesels with Heat Pump
28 Feb 2003 UFTO Note - Bipolar NiMHydride Battery
13 Feb 2003 UFTO Note - Virtual Utility Technology License Available
04 Feb 2003 UFTO Note - Leveraging the Feds
08 Jan 2003 UFTO Note - Sugar to Hydrogen by Aqueous Catalysis
UFTO Note -- Cost-Effective Dimmable Fluorescent Ballast
Date: Wed, 05 Nov 2003
Fluorescent lights need a special kind of power--high voltage AC, and preferably high frequency. Standard 50-60 Hz AC power is converted by a device called the ballast which is usually installed in or near the fixture. There are several types available today:
- Magnetic or core/coil ballasts (CESB) least energy efficient, but lowest initial cost (they are being phased-out)
- Electronic ballasts (EB) the traditional electronic ballast is much more energy efficient than the CESB, but is also more expensive than the CESB
- Dimming electronic ballasts (DEB) are substantially more energy efficient than the CESB and the EB due to their ability to match the correct amount of light required for the job while using the minimum amount of energy necessary to generate that light. Control strategies such as task tuning, daylighting and other well recognized schemes can provide significant energy savings.
The DEB is currently much more expensive in terms of initial cost, but less expensive in terms of life cycle cost. Even though they are much more energy efficient, DEB adoption in this country has been severely limited by these high first costs, in spite of the fact that specifiers, government policy officials and users desire the benefits associated with these products. Use of DEB's has been chiefly in specialized niche applications, like boardrooms and high end retail.
There have been many attempts over the past several decades to break into this market with lower cost products. Some have had technical problems, and others have run into obstacles in the marketplace.
Luminoptics is a company that actually developed dimmable ballast technology
in the 70's, and installed them in a showcase project at Citibank headquarters
in 1980. They got a 70% reduction in energy consumption for lighting and
more than tripled the longevity of conventional ballasts. Luminoptics products
were installed in over two million square feet of lighting systems at Citibank,
Bankers Trust and other building in the New York metropolitan area.
(See cover story in the 1983 Electrical Construction & Maintenance
Owing to this great success and promise, in 1981 Luminoptics technology was licensed exclusively to a major ballast manufacturer who proceeded to sit on it instead of bringing it to market. A long and fascinating saga followed, with two major trials culminating in a $102 Million settlement in 1997 in favor of the original Luminoptics team. (For details see the Luminoptics website, including NY Times and Wall Street Journal accounts.)
That team is back, with a significantly enhanced and updated suite of technology and products to carry on their original mission. Luminoptics' new DEB's are substantially less expensive to produce than what is available today, and will trigger a dramatic increase in DEB sales growth at the expense not only of other DEBs, but more importantly of regular electronic ballasts (EB). Thus the market becomes not just the DEB market, but the entire ballast market.
For the first time, DEBs can be widely deployed, greatly increasing opportunities for total building energy management, and creating meaningful quantities of dispatchable "Negawatts". Building owners will see large savings in operating costs, which in turn create increases in the book value of the property. Tenants will see improved comfort and productivity.
Today the market in the United States for ballasts exceed $1 billion annually, and electronic units account for over half of all ballasts sold. Worldwide approximately $2.5 billion (USD) worth of ballasts are sold every year.
Luminoptics is presently in the final engineering and pre-production
manufacturing stage to produce a low cost (nineteen dollar target) full
performance dimming ballast called the "ST-100" which will automatically
interface with most lighting control systems. Production is now scheduled
to commence in early 2004.
Drawing from industry knowledge and experience at Motorola, EBT, Philips, and ESI (now Universal), Luminoptics has updated the technology to 2003 standards and components, and added a significant new feature. Most important, the new Luminoptics ballast is designed to sell for much less than the competition or what the competition would likely do over the coming years in terms of cost reduction to meet the Luminoptics challenge.
The new Luminoptics ST-100 DEB uses a microprocessor for supervisory and control functions of the ballast. In addition, and, perhaps more important, this capability makes it possible to monitor and to interpret controls signals from a variety of competitive control sources to dim the lights accordingly. As it is now, every controller is designed to talk to a narrow range of ballasts. Not so with the ST-100; one ballast can interface with all currently available lighting controllers. Because the control functions are in software, Luminoptics has the capability to rapidly respond to new developments and changes in the marketplace without significant costs.
The ST-100 coupled with the Light Monitoring and Control System (LMCS) provides an integrated solution. The system is designed to reduce electrical energy consumption and demand by controlling the light output of fluorescent lamps (fixtures) in a building. The LMCS consists of one or more SBC (up to 12 special Single Board Computers) and a Master Computer (MC) to supervise, monitor and control all of the SBCs used to run a building. The SBC is a highly reliable stand-alone system which can function independently of any other SBC and the MC. The MC is a standard PC system used to monitor and supervise the SBCs connected to the LMCS system as well as to collect data on the operation of the entire system and to automatically program the SBCs for special events such as unanticipated holiday schedules, demand response (load shedding), fire and emergency use. No operator intervention is required for normal operation. Each SBC usually controls up to 50,000 square feet of space although the system is capable controlling more space depending on the zoning and each MC can supervise at least 12 SBCs.
In addition to the original IP, the company has 5 new patents and 4 more pending.
Full technical specs and additional background are available on the
The company is now looking for $1.5 Million in bridge financing (a memorandum is available, along with a full business plan), and will raise another $15 Million in equity and debt over the next 18 months. They are also looking for strategic marketing partners, particularly utilities and other 3rd party energy service providers.
William (Bill) Alling, (775) 356-3600, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Domingos, (415) 394-7000, email@example.com
UFTO Note - Short Subjects
Date: Sun, 19 Oct 2003
- Cleantech Forum NY Oct 21
- EESAT SF Oct 27
- WSJ on Cold Fusion, Gasification
- Transmission Line Sag Mitigator
- Mechanical De-Icer
- UFTO comments
- Reinventing Corporate R&D
Cleantech Venture Forum III
Next week, New York City. The Cleantech Venture Forum III starts on Tuesday afternoon Oct 21 with some pre-conference workshops. I'll be presenting information about Federal technology resources. The conference gets into full swing on Wed.
The Forum program will have nearly thirty investor presentations and refinements based on participant feedback from previous events. The quality of presenting companies is excellent with the 21 private companies on show collectively having revenue of over $100 million, thereby demonstrating "market traction" for cleantech products and services, from alternative energy to water purification.
The Forum will take place in a positive climate for cleantech venturing. The $641 million invested in clean technology ventures during the first two quarters of 2003 is 22% higher than the $524 million invested over the same period last year, according to the most recent issue of the Cleantech Venture Monitor released this week. "Cleantech" doubled its venture capital market share to 8% during Q1-Q2 2003 from 4% in 2002. Nearly 100 cleantech companies were funded in the first half of 2003.
An executive summary of the most recent Cleantech Venture Monitor downloaded
The Cleantech III program agenda can be found at:
Electric Energy Storage Applications & Technology
The EESAT 2003 meeting is in San Francisco, Oct 27-29. I plan to attend on the 28-29th. Hope to see you there. Complete information at http://www.sandia.gov/eesat
The Wall Street Journal seems to be taking an increasing interest in energy technology.
A. There was a good report Sept. 5 on Cold Fusion, describing
a conference the previous week with 150 scientists who continue to make
progress, despite the inability to publish, get funding, or avoid risks
to careers. The article concludes that whether or not the science
is "pathological" (as the establishment holds), the failure to permit or
provide honest scrutiny of the evidence certainly is a worse refutation
of the scientific method.
-- Check out UFTO.COM's "recommended reading" item on Cold Fusion
B. Gasification, the basis of the Billion $ DOE plan for "FutureGen",
i.e. zero- emission coal power plant of the future, and CO2 capture/sequestration,
are both actually being profitably performed at a decades-old powerplant
that was nearly scrapped long ago.
"From Obsolete to Cutting Edge" October 15. In 1988, Basin Electric Power Cooperative took over an experimental facility known as the Weyburn Project, begun in the 70's. They make methane from lignite, and also sell CO2 via pipeline to oil well operators, who inject it into wells to increase recovery, while possibly sequestering the CO2.
Transmission Line Sag Mitigator
Remember this? The program has made steady progress with CEC (Calif Energy Commission) funding, and it became the subject of an EPRI TC project, following full scale tests at PG&E in the summer of 2002. Developers are in negotiations with manufacturers, so they're on their way to commercialization, and are looking for partners for business development.
Contact: Manuchehr Shir 510-594-0300 x202 firstname.lastname@example.org
CEC issued a newsrelease recently:
Get the full story by downloading:
UFTO Note 29 Jun 1999 - T Line Sag Mitigator Gets Funding;
UFTO Note 01 Oct 2002 - Short Subjects (previous update)
Passive Mechanical De-Icer
MIS has come up with another innovation for transmission lines -- to mechanically prevent ice buildup on bundled conductor by delivering lateral vibration to the line. MIS has shown the initial feasibility of this approach by both dynamic simulations (using finite element methods) and by small scale testing. The central concept of this device, called the De-Icer Device (pat. pending), is that it will prevent, as opposed to remove, ice buildup. It is a passive mechanical device (no electronics) that will function on de-energized lines. It is designed to be installed between existing spacers or, in some cases, replace spacers.
Contact: Manuchehr Shir 510-594-0300 x202
or Dr. Ram Adapa, EPRI, regarding the TC 650-855-8988 email@example.com
A Note to UFTO Clients:
UFTO needs feedback. Please let me know any comments or suggestions of ways I can make UFTO more valuable to you. What recent UFTO Notes have you found especially interesting? Also, visit the website and tell me how it could be enhanced. (Have you seen the new features on both the public and clients-only areas?)
Coming Soon, to an UFTO Note near you...
*** Let me know which ones you think I should do first.**
- Distributed Utility Integration Test (DUIT) Facility Opens
- Enzyme, microbial fuel cells and hydrogen
- Thermal water splitting
- More New New Solar
- Wave, tidal, ocean power
- New progress in Li polymer batteries
- Powerplant exhaust to solar biomass
- Gas-to-Liquids (GTL)..old old technology taking off
Reinventing Corporate R&D
"Now even companies with big research budgets don't try to invent everything in-house"
It was great to see this article in Business Week recently (September 22, 2003). It says that " a new R&D model is emerging, dubbed open innovation. Companies of all sizes are rounding up more partners, big and small, than ever before, and they're casting wide research nets, snapping up work at diverse corporate, government, and academic labs." It also mentions that "P&G has 53 "technology scouts" who search beyond company walls for promising innovations."
So! What does that remind you of??
Subject: UFTO Note - DOE Office of Electric Transmission & Distribution (OETD)
Date: 17 Sep 2003
Back in March, we thought announcements were imminent. (See UFTO Note ? T&D R&D Gaining Attention, 21 Mar 2003.) Little did we realize the kinds of struggles that would ensue internally in DOE over which people, programs and budgets would be won or lost by which office. The new office started its work nonetheless, judging from numerous appearances by its chief, Jimmy Glotfelty, and several planning and roadmapping meetings over the spring and summer. And the dust has settled internally.
OETD officially "stood up" on August 10, but the big August 14th blackout made for awkward timing for a press release--none has been issued. (In fact, until an appropriations bill passes, I'm told they aren't actually officially "up".)
A new website quietly appeared on August 21. If offers a first cut at describing the Office and its scope of responsibilities and giving links to planning documents:
[This site has a good compendium of information on the blackout, however
for the 12 Sept announcment of the release of a report on the events sequence,
go to the DOE home page, www.energy.gov.]
**National Electric Delivery Technologies Vision and Roadmap**
There've been two major meetings this year, one in April and one in July.
In chronological order:
April 2003 Vision Meeting Proceedings (PDF 1.1 MB)
[65 people attended, of whom only 8 represented utilities]
Results of the April meeting are given in this vision document**. [The results of the July meeting will be reported in a few more weeks.]:
"Grid 2030" — "A National Vision for
Electricity’s Second 100 Years,
A CALL FOR LEADERSHIP"
**DOE’s National Electric Vision Document
(Final version, July 31, 2003) (PDF 1.2 MB)
Proceedings for National Electric Delivery Technologies Roadmap,
July 8-9, 2003 (PDF 1.0 MB)
[About 20 utilities were represented, with less than 40 people out of 200 participants.]
Glotfelty's kickoff presentation July 8:
"Transforming the Grid to Revolutionize Electric Power in North America"
http://www.electricity.doe.gov/documents/glotfelty roadmap opening 07 08 03.pdf
No personnel are identified on the new website (other than Gotfelty
and Bill Parks, Assistant Director), and no org charts shown. The
most complete descriptions of the programs appear in a series of factsheets:
The work of OETD follows these earlier developments: (see reliability program materials at http://www.eere.energy.gov/der/transmission/)
-- The National Energy Policy (May 2001) calls for the Department of Energy to address constraints in electric transmission and relieve bottlenecks.
-- The National Transmission Grid Study (May 2002) contains 51 recommendations for accomplishing the President's National Energy Policy and speeding the pace of the transition to competitive regional electricity markets.
-- The Transmission Grid Solutions Report (September 2002) provides
guidance for priority actions to address congestion on "national interest"
OETD conducts research in several areas:
--Electric Distribution Transformation
One participant at the July meeting told me he thought that DOE seems to be in the thrall of superconductors and other mega-technology solutions, and giving short shrift to distributed generation, microgrids, and other common sense approaches.
As for budget, through the end of Sept (FY03), OETD is operating on funds already committed to the programs that were brought in. Of roughly $85 Million in FY'03, high temperature superconductors have $40 M, and $27M was subject to Congressional earmarks. The FY04 budget request has a new line item for electric power infrastructure, and hopefully will provide more resources in FY05) explicitly for transmission reliability. Another observer said that the future program will be more balanced as a result.
The R&D plan is based on a 3-level architecture:
1. "Supergrid", or coast to coast backbone for power exchange. (superconducting)
3. CityGrid, ultimately involving fully integrated 2-way power flow, microgrids, etc.
Planning and analysis tools are needed at all 3 levels. The Supergrid is a longer term goal, operational perhaps in 10-15 years. Other near term elements include sensors, storage, and DC systems.
UFTO Note - Humid Air Injection Boosts CT Output
Date: Mon, 01 Sep 2003
Additional megawatt-hours (MWH) can be obtained at low cost during peak demand periods from gas turbines and combined cycle power plants by injecting externally compressed, humidified, and heated air into a combustion turbine (CT) up-stream of combustors. This novel approach is denoted as CT-HAI, (HAI is an acronym for Humidified Air Injection) for simple cycles and CC-HAI for combined cycles. It results in a significant power augmentation over the whole range of ambient temperatures, but it is the most effective at high ambient temperature conditions when reduction in power output is most severe.
The simplified explanation for reduced power production by CT and CC plants is that lower inlet air density, a result of the high ambient temperature, reduces mass flow through a CT with a corresponding reduction in power.
With HAI, power output can be maintained essentially constant over the range of 0 F to 95 F at about 20 % above the nominal 59 F rating. The overall heat rate for the total output of the power augmented CT also drops by about 8%-12% over that temperature range, saving fuel as the temperature rises. The heat rate for the incremental power is approximately 6000-6400 Btu/kWh, i.e. in the range of CC plants. Engineering and mechanical aspects of the air injection for CT-HAI concept are similar to the steam injection for the power augmentation, which has accumulated significant commercial operating experience.
This system can be operated to produce additional MW for sale whenever market conditions are attractive. The value to individual utilities will vary according to the number of hours that the additional megawatts can be sold at attractive prices. Specific capital costs of additional kWs (i.e. for installing HAI) are less than $200/kW. With lower net heat rates, the cost of electricity obtained with this technology can provide power at lower production costs in peak power markets.
The process is an interesting coming together of two separate ideas for getting more out of CTs: (1) adding humidity, and (2) (externally) compressing the air:
Just Add Water --
The output of a CT can be increased by adding water in various ways, like evaporative cooling, wet compression, and inlet chilling. Unfortunately, these technologies that may have low initial capital costs introduce the water into compression process and can create significant operational problems. For example, GE has told users to cease inlet fogging and evaporative cooler operation until compressor blade erosion inspections can be performed. Technologies that introduce condensation or carryover of water into the compressor section can cause blade erosion and ductwork corrosion, pitting and thermal stress.
While steam injection technology also bypasses the compressor, with HAI, humidity is introduced in the form of humidified air that, as compared with the steam injection, provides for a safer and more stable combustion process, and allows for higher injection rates with associated greater power augmentation. Steam injection flow is limited by a number of combustion related and other considerations.
Compressed Air --
The other development behind HAI is compressed air energy storage (CAES), a diurnal peak shifting method where air is compressed off-peak and stored in underground formations or piping systems. On-peak, the compressed air is fed to the CT, relieving it of the need to do its own compression and thus increasing output. From there it was a short step to realizing that an external compressor could be beneficial under certain operating conditions. Adding humidity to this external air supply enhances the performance even more.
Dr. Michael Nakhamkin, President, Energy Storage and Power Consultants
(ESPC), has fourteen patents; including five on CAES technology and another
five on the power augmentation technologies with humid and dry air
injection into CT.
908-658-4815, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.espcinc.com/
- Combustion Turbine with Humid Air Injection (CTHAI) -pat. 6038849
- Combustion Turbine with [Dry]Air Injection (CTDAI) -pat. pending
Both methods can increase power output by 15%-25% or more; use proven equipment; and are simple to implement and operate. The humid version also reduces NOx by 15%. Developers have also come up with a clever means to avoid entraining impurities in the water, simplifying water treatment. A once-through boiler with partial steam generation requires only demineralized water.
Several HAI/DAI concepts as applied to simple-cycle (CT) and combined-cycle (CC) plants are available for commercial implementation. Successful validations have been done at Calpine on GE 7241 FA. HAI can be practical for any CT 5 MW and larger.
Hill Energy System, a subsidiary of Hill International, is a licensee of the HAI technology, and is actively marketing systems. The website has contact information and a number of helpful documents.
Also see a full discussion in the July 2003 issue of Power Engineering
"Humid Air Injection Turns to Out-Of-Shelf Equipment to Enhance Viability for Combustion Turbine Power Augmentation"
"Air Injected Power Augmentation Validated by Fr7FA Peaker Tests", Gas Turbine World, March/April 2002.
Ron Wolk, prominent power technology expert, has been involved in this
program for years, and can provide additional insights. Contact him
UFTO Note - Update on Alchemix HydroMax
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2003
The HydroMax technology uses any carbon source including low sulfur and high sulfur coal to produce electricity, hydrogen and syngases which can be used as fuel for gas-fired power plants or converted into diesel, jet fuel, gasoline or ammonia. Alternate carbon sources include petroleum coke, municipal waste, biomass and shredded tires.
The company continues to make excellent progress as the U.S. Patent Office has now allowed 206 claims contained within a handful of patent applications. There is an opportunity to participate in an independent engineering evaluation of HydroMax vs. other hydrogen production technologies (such as gasification), to participate in a demonstration program, and to make a direct investment in Alchemix.
See: UFTO Note - H2 Production Adapts Smelting Technology, 15 Nov 2002:
HydroMax adapts existing metal smelting technology to convert dirty solid fuels to clean gases. In iron making, carbon (coke) is mixed into molten iron oxide, and the result is elemental iron (Fe) and CO2. Alchemix's new process, HydroMax, injects steam into a molten iron bath which makes H2 and iron oxide (FeO). HydroMax then makes use of iron making technology to return the iron oxide to pure iron for re-use. These two steps are done one after the other, and the fixed inventory of iron/iron oxide remains in place. (To produce a steady output stream, two reactors alternate, one in each mode.)
FeO + C
--> Fe + CO2
Fe + H2O --> FeO + H2
A great deal of information is available at the company's website:
Look under "News" and "Shareholders" for several powerpoint presentations and other items. Also a white paper under "Technology". These emphasize the point that Alchemix provides a bridge strategy between hydrogen now, and the hydrogen economy of the future.
Alchemix says they have the lowest cost zero-emission coal/hydrogen
technology, noteworthy in light of the somewhat controversial and problematic
DOE FutureGen plan* to spend over $1 billion on a gasification approach.
See Alchemix's comments on how HydroMax will meet the FutureGen goals far
Latest developments include specific plans for a commercial demonstration plant to be built in cooperation with members of the Canadian Oil Sands Network for Research and Development (CONRAD, http://www.conrad.ab.ca). Several members of CONRAD decided on July 15 to proceed with an engineering study to evaluate the HydroMax technology, economics and environmental impact in comparison with the alternate methods of producing hydrogen (i.e. steam methane reforming, gasification of solids and partial oxidation of heavy liquids). If the results of the study are positive for HydroMax as expected, then this group is likely to proceed with funding the first HydroMax plant, to be built in northern Alberta where the oil sands are located.
The plant will use petroleum coke to make 20 million scf/day of hydrogen
and 10 MW of electricity. The plant will be profitable. An executive
summary available on the Alchemix website (under "Introduction") includes
pro formas for the plant.
The group in Canada would welcome participation in the study (and the demo plant) by additional companies including US utilities. Alchemix will make introductions for anyone who is interested.
The group includes governmental organizations and private companies who will provide funding for the plant but may not require an equity position since they are interested in accelerated access to the technology. Alchemix, anticipating a capital requirement on its part for a substantial portion of the project (estimated at $120 million US), has drafted an investment opportunity. The proposal is for sale of stock in Alchemix with a call option for another traunch as the project proceeds.
A detailed memo on the rationale for this investment is available (password
Contact Robert Horton, Chairman
Subject: UFTO Note - Bicarb Cleans Up Stack Gas Emissions
Date: Sun, 06 Jul 2003
The same baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) sold in grocery stores and used for a 101 things around the home is also one of the best solutions to scrub emissions from coal-fired power plants. Purification of flue gas emissions using sodium bicarbonate has always been recognized as a highly effective process for removing SO2, SO3, NOx and heavy metal compounds from flue gas. However, sodium bicarbonate scrubbing has 3 serious drawbacks:
1. The cost of sodium bicarbonate is excessive;
2. The resulting byproduct of the sodium bicarbonate SOx reaction (sodium sulfate) has limited economic value;
3. Sodium sulfate disposal is expensive and poses a significant environmental problem.
Despite its recognition as a superior scrubbing technology, these prohibitive operating issues have kept flue gas scrubbing with sodium bicarbonate from realizing any significant market share.
Airborne Pollution Control Inc., a Calgary based company, has developed a solution to the challenges of sodium scrubbing. The Airborne process begins with the injection of bicarbonate into the flue, where it reacts with and captures the pollutants. The key to Airborne’s patented process is its ability to regenerate the "residue" (it is converted back into sodium bicarbonate that can be reused for flue gas scrubbing), and at the same time, to make a high-grade fertilizer byproduct.
The Airborne process eliminates the disposal problem, improves the economics and most importantly it does a superior job of addressing the multiple pollutants inherent in flue gas emissions. Additionally, Airborne has a proprietary process to granulate their fertilizer. Airborne’s thin-film pan granulation technology makes the fertilizer more stable, shippable, blendable, customizable and ultimately more valuable.
Together with the Babcock & Wilcox, US Filter HPD Systems, and Icon Construction, Airborne is operating an integrated 5 MW demonstration facility to showcase the Airborne Process. The plant is located in Kentucky at LG&E Energy Corp's Ghent generating facility.
Last year DOE received 36 proposals for projects valued at more than US$5 billion in the first round of President Bush's Clean Coal Power Initiative. The Airborne Process was 1 of only 8 successful proposals, and was selected for US$31 million in funding for the implementation of Airborne's multi-pollutant control process.
| Clean Coal Power Initiative Round One
| "Commercial Demonstration of the Airborne Process" [PDF-495KB] __
In short, this means that high sulfur coal can be burned in an environmentally friendly and economically efficient manner. The Airborne process removes multiple pollutants and it meets or exceeds all current and pending environmental requirements for SO2, SO3, NOx and mercury. For the first time pollution abatement becomes an economically rewarding investment for the power producer.
Over the next 5 years, Airborne has conservatively targeted the application of its technology to 10 new and existing coal-fired electrical generation plants. This conservative target represents less than 1% of the global available market and translates to a total installed capacity of approximately 7500 Megawatts (MW) out of approximately 800,000 MW of coal-fired power generated world-wide.
One concern with the production of fertilizer byproducts is maintaining
a balance between the supply and demand for sulfur based fertilizers, a
demand which is predicted to grow as sulfur emissions are reduced at the
source. Airborne has a worldwide agreement with the Potash Corp of
Saskatchewan Inc. (PCS), the world's largest manufacturer and distributor
of fertilizer products. Airborne has a worldwide marketing agreement
with PCS whereby PCS will market the various fertilizer outputs, providing
Airborne with access to worldwide markets and providing PCS with a unique
addition to their portfolio of fertilizer products.
Airborne has made a major investment in the development and demonstration of this patented process and is seeking equity investment partners to take it to the next level.
Contact: Leonard Seidman
T: 403.253.7887 Ext: 310
"Multi Pollutant Control with the Airborne Process" [ 1.1 MB PDF]
(... details the experimental and analytical results of a lab and pilot
scale 0.3 MW coal fired combustion test facility and the progression to
an integrated 5 MW facility)
Subject: UFTO Note - Non-Thermal Plasma H2, no CO2
Date: 26 Jun 2003
Precision H2, a Canadian company, is developing a non-thermal plasma process which disassembles methane (CH4) into hydrogen and carbon black. Note, no CO2!
There are dozens of plasma companies, often focused on medical waste, and some on power (with coal or some waste stream as the feedstock). (See footnote) Usually these are hot plasmas, and tend to be expensive due to the materials problems at high temperature. In a plasma, sometimes called the 4th state of matter, material is very highly ionized by an electrical arc discharge. Lightning is a good example, and many plasma systems are brute force, require a lot of energy, and get very hot.
A so-called "non-thermal" plasma is one in which the electric discharge is controlled and confined. Locally it is extremely hot, but each spark doesn't last long enough to heat up the surrounding materials. Precision H2 has created a "plasma dissociation reactor", where the electrical discharge is carefully shaped and especially tailored to the specific job of dismantling methane. The electrical energy goes straight to the molecule, and doesn't have to get there as heat. (It's a little bit like cooking with microwaves instead of a conventional oven.)
The methane streaming through the reactor is partly converted to H2, with the carbon dropping out as a nanopowder. The output is then a blend of methane enriched with hydrogen (hythane). In an intriguing twist, this blend can be sent to a fuel cell which will consume the hydrogen, leaving the methane to be cycled back to the reactor. In effect, the fuel cell itself is used to separate out the hydrogen--for its own use. This configuration would produce electricity directly, rather than hydrogen. Pure hydrogen is gotten by using PSA (pressure swing absorption) or membranes to do the separation. Potential partners are already in discussions on both fronts (i.e. fuel cells and purification). Also, hythane can be used directly in engines, to good advantage.
The key is electronics (pulse shaping, and analysis and control of the discharge), and costs for electronics are well understood. Because temperatures remain modest, the reaction chamber can be made inexpensively, and is readily scalable.
There is an energy penalty--not all the "fuel value" of the methane is used, because the carbon itself isn't oxidized. Instead, since no oxygen is present, no CO2 is produced--think of it as "presequestration", with resulting GHG and carbon-trading benefits. Also, the carbon is in a valuable form which can be sold, enhancing overall economics. Detailed thermodynamic and financial models have been developed, and the company believes that even today, with "one-off" systems, they can produce hydrogen cost competitively.
The company is raising a round of equity financing.
Contact Dan Fletcher
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
An amazing find can be found at:
"Non-Incineration Medical Waste Treatment Technologies", an August 2001 report .... explores the environmental and economic impacts, among other considerations, of about 50 specific technologies.
Chapter 4 in particular is an exhaustive review of every technology
and nearly every company with a means to destroy hazardous materials.
While the focus is on medical waste, most of the technologies also apply
to hazardous materials, municipal waste and sludge, biomass, and fossil
fuels. Gasification, pyrolysis, plasmas, and many different chemical
and electrochemical oxidation and reduction methods are out there, and
are being used today at industrial scale. When they can be made to
work, the issues are cost, reliability, system longevity, emissions (creation
of new hazards, e.g. dioxins), materials handling, feedstock variability,
etc. etc. The key is to inject sufficient energy into the material
to break the chemical bonds, for example, to get it hot enough for long
enough (dwell time).
Subject: UFTO Note - Firefly Re-invents the Lead Acid Battery
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2003
In early May, Caterpillar announced the formation of a new spin-off company called Firefly Energy Inc., whose purpose is to complete the development and commercialization of a dramatically improved lead acid battery technology. The entire research program, people and technology have been transferred out of CAT into the new startup after several years of in-house research. CAT will remain as only a partial investor once there is new financing.
Attempts have been made before to re-invent the lead acid battery, without much success. Prominent among them, Electrosource/Horizon and Bolder Technologies, both of whom ran into obstacles in cost, performance and manufacturability that couldn't be overcome. . (In Dec 2001, Bolder was acquired out of bankruptcy by Singapore based GP Battery. In Feb 2003, Eagle-Picher announced a new joint to produce the Horizon battery.)
Firefly has high expectations that they've got it right. In fact, key personnel from those previous efforts are involved, along with an all star cast of battery industry veterans.
Firefly's claims include: 1/4 the weight (eliminating 80% of the lead), double life expectancy, 7x charge rate, and manufacturing that is compatible with existing lead acid battery production facilities. It should cost no more than current lead-acid batteries, making it a small fraction of the cost of nickel metal hydride and lithium technologies. Cycle life, even at 80% depth of discharge, is several thousand cycles, one or two orders of magnitude better than conventional lead acid, on a par with the advanced technologies. Two main problems of lead acid, sulfation and corrosion, are all but eliminated. Heat dissipation is excellent, even at the greatly increased charge and discharge rates.
One of the keys to these improvements is a substrate material for the plates that no-one thought to try before. Highly porous, it provides for thousands of times more "cells", or locations where the reaction can take place. Fourteen patents are already in process, with more to come.
The company plans to license the technology, and to manufacture with partners that already have production lines, co-branding new products that will be priced at or below leading batteries on the market.
They are raising an initial seed round now, with a $2 million "A" round
to follow immediately.
Ed Williams, CEO
Subject: UFTO Note - Energy Efficiency as a Resource
Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2003
ACEEE National Conference on Energy Efficiency as a Resource
Berkeley CA Jun 9,10
A number of the papers are already posted online (when the author's
name is a link):
This event was a real eye opener. The energy efficiency crowd is on a roll, very much back from near death. These are the champions of Energy Efficiency (EE) and Demand Response (DR, not to be confused with distributed resources) who push for equal treatment of the demand side "resource" alongside generation and supply. In California especially, they feel vindicated by the failure of deregulation, and gleefully describe the end of a "dark age" with the return of rate-base regulation and integrated resource planning (IRP). In this view, reliance on the "market" to deliver the right mix of supply and conservation has been completely discredited.
The emphasis was on California, with two PUC commissioners giving major speeches supporting the basic premise. We heard about recent 3-2 votes to push efficiency as an integral part of a state "action plan". Various state agencies are pledging to coordinate their efforts. The state's investor-owned utilities have submitted major plans that go well beyond using the public benefits charge to "procure" energy and capacity from the demand side. Since the utilities are the default/only provider, but don't have their own generation anymore (they are pipes and wires companies!), they now need to submit detailed resource plans--thus the rebirth of "IRP".
This all felt like a jump back in time--apparently I hadn't realized how little deregulation has progressed. Clearly, "prices" haven't replaced "rates"; "revenue requirement" still has meaning; utilities are still utilities, and a key issue is how to put efficiency investments into the rate base and assure they get a rate of return comparable to generation facilities.
There was, however, a recognition that things would be different -- that the intervening experience and lessons learned could be built on. One speaker compared it to a second marriage, where you're wiser and may have a better chance to get it right. In particular, there's a lot of support for "decoupling". This refers to the idea that distribution utilities should not have their cost recovery/revenues tied to throughput of kwhs, but to performance based measures like reliability of service.
The California Action Plan includes goals for 5% of peak demand from efficiency along with renewables, distributed generation, transmission upgrades, and "reliable affordable energy". California led the nation over the last 20 years in conservation and efficiency, and will again. Cities like San Diego and San Francisco are undertaking their own resource planning efforts as well.
Other areas are proceeding vigorously. In New York, the governor's office is running a multi-agency Coordinated Electric Demand Reduction Initiative (CEDRI), with a goal of making 600 MW available on short notice. The state's goal is to create a vigorous market for efficency; 92 ESCOs are operating there currently. The Northwest has a multistate program; Montana has come up with an ambitious approach; the Northeast is active as well (NEDRI). In the midwest, the situation was described as being "several years behind", since energy is cheap and plentiful there. In Texas, there doesn't seem to be a problem incorporating demand aspects alongside restructuring. Their markets are set up so that "DR" can compete directly, and as much as 500 MW is in the game.
Another issue receiving a lot of attention is the relationship between "efficiency", i.e. energy, and "demand response", i.e. capacity. In many regions, it seems problematic to work these two pieces together, but there was a strong recognition that they are really two sides of the same coin. Chuck Goldman of LBL has been studying the lay of the land in states all across the country, and noted a marked drop in traditional load control and interruptible rate programs--these are practically 'stranded assets' -- ignored until price spikes appeared. Now there are wildly varying arrangements for retail competition, and for EE and DR, which are rarely coordinated. (http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/res.html)
For the rulemaking in Calif for demand response, go to:
There was a lot of support for real time pricing, which must eventually become a reality as the only real mechanism that can send the proper economic signals to consumers. In fact, the Calif plan has it starting in 2004.
Monica Rudman of the Calif Energy Commission reported on how they managed to rush a set of programs together to try to alleviate the demand crunch during the California crisis. The state legislature urgently approved $50 million in August of 2000 and then an additional $327 million in April 2001. The CEC launched a wide array of over a dozen measures with astonishing speed, and almost in time to help. (Efficiency may not take as long to "construct" as generators, but it still has a lead time.) http://www.aceee.org/conf/03ee/Rudman-3w.pdf
Art Rosenfeld, former head of energy programs at LBL, and now commissioner on the Calif Energy Commission, is widely viewed as the father of the conservation movement, in California in particular. See http://www.energy.ca.gov/commission/commissioners/rosenfeld.html
He tells a convincing story about the scope the efficiency resource,
citing the example of how refrigerators now consume 1/4 of the energy each
(and they're larger) compared with 20 years ago when "market transformation"
efforts and appliance efficiency standards began. This "resource"
is now comparable to the entire US hydro or nuclear power contribution
to the nation's energy mix..
There's a great deal more detail to talk about from this conference, and about this whole subject, than can fit in one UFTO Note. If there's interest in pursuing any of this in greater detail, please let me know.
By coincidence, this morning's UtiliPoint IssueAlert was on this very
subject! " Energy Conservation is Now In Vogue". Go to:
(I hope you are on the list to get this daily commentary. It's almost always interesting, timely and useful.)
Several months ago I put together a set of references on demand studies.
You can download it here (UFTO client password required):
A personal view.... I'm struggling with one aspect of efficiency
as a resource-- just what kind of a "resource" is it? And why does
it exist in the first place? The refrigerator example makes sense
as public policy--not too different from needing government to overcome
the inability of the "market" to put smog controls in cars. When
it comes to "bidding" negawatts into the power market, however, one might
reflect that there's no other instance where a product or service is "unsold"
(except maybe in agriculture, and look what a mess that is). If that
negawatt is available, then maybe it should have already been taken up.
Its existence is purely a result of an existing market imperfection.
The question of what demand "would have been" is fundamentally messy, and
despite all the brave talk, "Measurement and Verification" (another huge
topic of interest at the conference) is never going to feel entirely satisfactory
as an answer. Efficiency advocates don't seem to understand, and
aren't addressing, what critics are uncomfortable with, and they need to.
UFTO Note-DOE H2&FC Reviews'03
Date: Fri, 30 May 2003
DOE Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Merit Review Meeting
May 19-22, 2003, Berkeley, CA
(See UFTO Note 10 June 2002 for last year's meeting.)
"Annual Review Proceedings" are (will be) available:
DOE's new organization for hydrogen and fuel cells is in place. Steve
Chalk heads the program, and has about 20 direct reports for the many sub-areas.
The org chart and key contacts list are available here:
Of course, the program got a huge boost when the president announced the $1.2 billion Hydrogen Fuel Initiative and "FreedomCar" program in the state-of-the-union address this past January.
In a plenary opening session, Steve Chalk gave an overview of DOE's
response, based on a major planning effort involving many stakeholders.
(This is all heavily documented on the website.) He showed budgets steadily
growing over the next several years.
H2: $47, $55, $77 million (FY 02, 03, 04)
FC: $29, $40, $88 million
The Plan involves a decade of R&D, with commercialization decisions
towards the end, and subsequent "transition" and "expansion" in the marketplace.
Meanwhile, "technology validation" projects will attempt semi-real world
demonstrations of complete integrated infrastructure elements, e.g. refueling
stations (major RFP was announced May 6 for a 5 year "learning demo" of
hydrogen vehicle infrastructure.)
The DOE Secretary will have a new Hydrogen Policy Group (heads of EE, FE, Nuclear, etc.) and the Hydrogen Technical Advisory Committee. Lower down, Steve Chalk will work with the Hydrogen Matrix Group and an Interagency Task Force. Of particular note, a new Systems Integration and Analysis office will be set up at NREL, and several "virtual centers" at national labs focused on specific technical areas.
In each area, goals have been established for the various cost and performance parameters. (e.g., by 2005 electrolytic hydrogen at 5000 psi should be produced at 65% efficiency, for under $3.75/kg. By 2010, moving hydrogen from central production sites to distribution facilities should be under $0.70/kg.) [One kg of H2 is about equivalent in energy content to one gallon of gasoline, making comparisons easier.]
When Chalk's powerpoint becomes available, it will be worth reviewing if you're interested in how all of this is going.
This year's annual review meetings drew a large crowd again. A subset of projects were chosen from each technical area for 20-30 minute presentations, while other investigators were asked to do poster papers instead. Hydrogen and Fuel Cell sessions were held in parallel (last year they were on separate days), making it impossible to cover everything. A two inch thick binder had all the vugraphs, however, and all of it be posted on the website.
Here are the session headings:
- Production -Biological & Biomass Based
- Production -Fossil Based
- Production -Electrolytic
- Production -Photolytic and Photoelectro-chemical
- Storage - High Pressure Tanks
- Storage - Hydrides
- Storage - Carbon & Other Storage
- Infrastructure Development -H2 Fueling Systems & Infrastructure
- Codes & Standards
- High Temp Membranes/ Cathodes/ Manufacturing
- High Temp Membranes/ Cathodes/ Electrocatalysts
- Fuel Cell Power Systems Analysis
- Fuel Processing
- Direct Methanol Fuel Cells
- Fuel Cell Power System Development
- Fuels Effects
- Sensors for Safety & Performance
- Air Management Subsystems
A few highlights:
- Codes and standards were compared to the "iceberg below the surface" (i.e. that sunk the Titanic). The voluntary standards-making process in this country, along with the 40,000 independent local jurisdictions, represent a huge educational and process challenge to make society ready for hydrogen. The recently announced fueling station in Las Vegas needed 16 separate permits, and the local fire marshal was the toughest to deal with.
- Carbon nanotube storage is living on borrowed time. It has the distinction of a stern "Go-No go" decision that's been put in its path (2005), and the science seems not to be making the greatest progress.
- Another Go-No Go decision is set for late 2004, for onboard fuel processing.
- Photolytic H2 production makes slow progress, but researchers close to it acknowledge it's practical application can only happen if the right materials are found. The search continues using "combinatorial" methods. (see UFTO Note 2 April 2003).
- The fuel cell work seems mostly to do with the tough slugging it out with materials and costs, finding formulations and configurations that gradually improve the situation. A fair amount of attention is going towards higher temperature PEM cell membranes, where hydrogen purity is less of an issue, however no breakthroughs seem imminent.
- Quite a bit of attention is going to fueling systems. Several projects
involve the building of equipment and actual demonstration fueling stations
and "power parks". DTE and Pinnacle West are the only utilities that
seem to have really pursued this; each has a major demonstration project
In view of the volume and technical nature of this material, let me suggest that I can dig deeper into any particular area of interest to you, but that otherwise the DOE website has all the documentation on the programs and specific projects.
Other Hydrogen news:
You may have seen Wired 11.4 (April). The cover story is by Peter
Schwartz, the famous futurist, who proclaims that a full-blown hydrogen
economy is urgent and inevitable. I saw him present the argument
at a seminar at Stanford recently, and found it very short on practical
specifics and less than compelling. For one thing, he asserts that
nuclear will be the major source of energy to make hydrogen a decade or
two from now.
Along the same lines, the June issue of Business 2.0 came last week,
with a feature story about the head of Accenture's Resource Group, Mary
Tolan, and her blunt challenge to the energy industry to go invest like
crazy to make the hydrogen economy happen quickly. She says it's
the only way the oil majors in particular will be able to continue to make
big profits in the future. She apparently let loose with this at
CERA Week, back in February. Business 2.0's website (http://www.business2.com)
won't have it online for a few weeks, but I was able to locate a reference
to an Accenture utility industry event that outlines the argument.
Curious to know what you think. In my own opinion, both sound
over the top. We've got a ways to go before the technology, or the
society, will be ready for hydrogen on a massive scale. I've written
to Ms. Tolan to see if I can get more details as to their reasoning.
UFTO Note - Cleantech Venture Forum II
Date: Mon, 19 May 2003
Cleantech Venture Network's second venture forum in San Franciso, Apr 30- May1 was a great success. Over 260 people in attendance included mostly investors, along with representatives of the 23 companies selected to present (from over 200 companies that applied).
You may recall reading about Cleantech Venture Network in UFTO Notes 26 July, 1 October '02.
The surge of interest in cleantech was noteworthy. Many new faces were there, some of them very prominent VC firms whose usual sectors of IT and telecom have lost their lustre. These investors seem to be checking out energy tech and cleantech to see what the opportunities are, and whether it might represent a "next big thing". Some of them are actually doing deals, too. Panels sessions discussed this very trend, while others went into water, Asia, and the overall outlook for investing in cleantech. The new issue of the Venture Monitor, due in a couple of weeks (for members only!) will have details from the panel discussions.
The presenting companies ranged from a successful biopesticide company (better, cheaper, safer than chemicals...really), to several hydrogen, fuel cell, and solar PV companies, and some water and waste management. (The PV companies were described in another UFTO Note just recently). Here's the list. (If you want additional information, please contact me. I'm not including details here in the interests of brevity, but I can send you a version with longer descriptions, as well as individual company's own writeups. Some may appear in future notes.)
AgraQuest, Inc. - Natural pesticides
aqWise - Wastewater treatment retrofit increases throughput
CellTech Power - Fundamentally new solid oxide fuel cell acts like a refuelable battery.
FiveStar Technologies - Advanced materials via cavitation technology
Global Solar - thin film PV in production
H2Gen - On-site hydrogen generation via small scale steam methane reforming
Hoku Scientific, Inc - PEM fuel cell membrane to replace Nafion
HyRadix Inc. ? Small scale hydrogen generators via thermal reforming
Integrated Env. Technologies - Waste Treatment via Plasma
iPower - Distributed Generation ? New genset
Mach Energy ? Energy management services to commercial buildings
PolyFuel Inc - Direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) systems
PowerTube - Geothermal powerplant downhole
Powerzyme - Enzymatic fuel cell
PrecisionH2 - Hydrogen, power and carbon from methane, via cold plasma (no CO2!)
Primotive - unique electric motor/generator
QuestAir - Gas purification via pressure swing absorption
Raycom Technologies - Thin film solar cells via high volume sputter coating
Sensicore - Sensors monitor water quality cheaply
Solaicx - Polycrystalline silicon PV
Solicore - Thin film lithium batteries
Verdant - Wave power via underwater windmills
Here's a definition of "Cleantech", from the website:
**The concept of "clean" technologies embraces a diverse range of products, services, and processes that are inherently designed to provide superior performance at lower costs, greatly reduce or eliminate environmental impacts and, in doing so, improve the quality of life. Clean technologies span many industries, from alternative forms of energy generation to water purification to materials-efficient production techniques.**
I strongly suggest you consider an investor membership, for dealflow,
Venture Monitor, networking and other benefits. (http://www.cleantechventures.com).
The next Forum will be held this Fall in New York.
Note - New New Solar PV
Date: Mon, 12 May 2003
There are a number of fascinating new developments in the world of solar
photovoltaic cells, which represent major shifts from the usual crystalline
silicon cell based on semiconductor technology, which supplies as much
as 80% of the market today (referring to wafers sliced from large single
crystal or polycrystalline ingots). Here is a quick overview.
Much more information exists on most of these topics.
Evergreen has one of most mature of the new approaches, and is now a growing public company (symbol ESLR), ramping up production of its unique string ribbon Silicon cell. The Evergreen cell is fully equivalent on a functional basis, but is considerably than the ingot slice method. Evergreen anticipates sales of $6-9 million in 2003. The website does a good job explaining the whole story. http://www.evergreensolar.com/
Solar Grade Silicon
In March, Solar Grade Silicon LLC announced full production of polycrystalline silicon at its new plant in Washington, the first ever plant dedicated wholly to producing feedstock for the solar industry. They supply the purified silicon that is then melted and made into single crystals, i.e. in large ingots, or Evergreen's ribbon. In the past, solar cell makers relied on scraps from the semiconductor industry, which won't be sufficient to handle the growth in the PV industry.
Spheral (ATS Automation)
In one of the stranger sagas of solar, you may recall that in 1995, Texas Instruments finally gave up on a major development program to develop "Spheral" solar cells, an effort they'd devoted many years and many dollars to (with considerable support from DOE). Spheral technology comprises thousands of tiny silicon spheres, bonded between thin flexible aluminum foil substrates to form solar cells, which are then assembled into lightweight flexible modules. TI's goal was to develop a manufacturing process that would drive PV costs to $2/watt. Ontario Hydro Technologies acquired the technology, set up manufacturing in Toronto, and sold some systems, but in 1997, reorganizations and a return to basics led them to sell it off. Apparently dormant since then, in July 2002 ATS Automation announced it had acquired the technology, set up a subsidiary, and was scaling up production with plans to be in commercial production this year. The Canadian government put in nearly $30 Million. The jury is out on this one. For the story, go to: http://www.spheralsolar.com/
Commercially produced thin film PV falls into 3 general categories, Cadium Telluride, Amorphous Silicon, and CIGS (Cu(In,Ga)Se2). The first two technologies are struggling, with BP's notable exit last November from both. CIGS is having instances of some apparent success and continuing development efforts, and enjoys strong support at NREL, a true believer. There are production facilities doing CIGS as well as innumerable development efforts around the world to make it cheaper and more efficient. CIGS has the unique feature of becoming more efficient as it ages.
Global, partly owned Unisource, the parent of Tucson Electric, is selling thin film CIGS modules to the military, commercial and recreational markets. One product is a blanket a soldier can unfold on the ground. Current production capacity is 2.3 MW per year, and they're fundraising to expand to 7.5 MW. http://www.globalsolar.com
Among the new entrants, Raycom is a startup in Silicon Valley, led by veterans of thin film coating for disk drives and optical filters. They believe their experience (and existing equipment) will enable them to avoid the long and painful development cycles that have traditionally characterized the solar PV industry, and be in production in less than 2 years. Their secret is "dual-rotary magnetron sputtering" a patented process that has already proven effective in high volume manufacturing. Cost targets are under $1 per watt. They also have brought a fresh eye to the formulation of CIGS, and see ways to make it without cadmium, which is highly toxic. Raycom produced their first working cells in a matter of months. They are in the midst of fundraising. One might observe that this is a rare instance where someone comes to PV from manufacturing instead of science. Normally, people develop PV technology in the lab and then endeavor to become manufacturers. This time it's the other way around. [To see the magetron sputtering technology, go to:
Contact David Pearce 408-456-5706, email@example.com
Konarka has attracted a great deal of attention and sizable VC participation (funding round Oct 02) with promises of a way to commercialize the "Gratzel" cell, which Dr. Michael Grätzel developed and subsequently patented in the 1990's. The core of the technology consists of nanometer-scale crystals of TiO2 semiconductor coated with light-absorbing dye and embedded in an electrolyte between the front and back electrical contacts. Photons are absorbed by the dye, liberating an electron which escapes via the TiO2 to the external circuit. The electron returns on the other side of the cell, and is restores another dye molecule. The jury is out on this one, whether it'll happen quickly as the company and its investors hope, or will there be a long road ahead. One of the biggest issues since this idea was first tried has been the stability of the organic dyes. http://www.konarkatech.com/
For a good discussion of dye-sensitized cells, see this pdf:
This Palo Alto based company has a long list of goals for its nanotechnology, ranging from chemical/biological sensors, to electronics and photovoltaics, based on formulations of nanowires, nanotubes, and nanoparticles. Their idea for PV is reportedly to embed nanorods of photosensitive material in a polymer electrolyte, on a principle not unlike Konarka's. On April 24, they announced an amazing $30 Million VC funding. You have to wonder about this one, i.e. if the nano-hype has taken over, and how successful they'll be about solar as compared with the other areas.
The technology was originally developed at Lawrence Berkeley Lab:
Also Palo Alto based, this one is in stealth mode. The basic idea is similar to Nanosys, but they are focused only on solar. They also incorporate technology licensed from Sandia for nano-self-assembly to align the nanorods perpendicular to the surface, which is supposed to make a big difference in the efficiency. (Nanosys's nanorods are said to be randomly oriented in clumps.) NanoSolar has some very famous investors, who are maintaining an extremely low profile.
Solaicx is a new spinout from SRI International, and has a way to make polycrystalline silicon cell material in a continuous process atmospheric-pressure furnace. Their presentations and materials tell very little about what they have, making it pretty hard to judge.
This is a very unusual concentrator story involving the use of variable "graded" index glass optics. The work started in the mid 80's. Solaria Corporation was formed in 1998 by the founders and former management from LightPath Technologies, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico. Solaria holds the exclusive license from LightPath to use its proprietary GRADIUM® optics in the field of solar energy. http://www.solaria.com/
** These companies presented at the Cleantech Venture Forum in San Francisco,
UFTO Note - Photolytic Hydrogen from Sunlight
Date: Wed, 02 Apr 2003
Researchers have been working on a process that uses sunlight to produce hydrogen by splitting water directly. To understand photoelectrolysis, think of a PV cell underwater, where the electrochemical energy produced is immediately used to electrolyze water, instead of creating an external current. The light hits the cell, and hydrogen bubbles appear on one side of the cell, while oxygen appears on the other side, just as in electrolysis. (Of course one could use a PV cell to power an electrolyzer, but the idea here is to make a simpler and more economical system.)
The interface between the water (electrolyte) and certain semiconductor materials forms a diode junction that generates power--and thus does the electrolysis. The presence of catalysts at the surface can also help with the energetics and kinetics of the reactions that form the hydrogen and oxygen, respectively.
One of the problems is that the minimum voltage for splitting water (1.3 volts) is higher than a photocell can easily produce, and high-bandgap materials capable of generating enough voltage can utilize only ultraviolet light, which is a small fraction of the solar spectrum.
Work at NREL and the University of Hawaii has focused on developing multijunction cells which use more of the solar spectrum. These additional layers are sandwiched inside the basic cell that does the photolysis, and provide a boost to the electro potential available to do the water splitting. The electrochemistry and solid state physics of these devices are very complex. One of the main challenges has been to come up with materials and configurations that will be less susceptible to corrosion from the electrolyte and which will last long enough to be practical. Efficencies above 12% have been seen (i.e., the energy value of the hydrogen produced vs. the amount of incident sunlight. (See the 2002 H2 DOE Program Reviews--ref. below. Also, the 2003 meeting in May will have new updates.)
Researchers at the University of Duquesne published an important development in Science Magazine last September. Titanium dioxide is known to be a cheap and stable photocatalyst for splitting water, but hydrogen yields were always less than 1% (due to the high band gap of the material). The new development involved preparing the material in a flame, introducing carbon into its structure. Cells using this new material saw a factor of 10 increase in hydrogen production. The University is actively seeking licensees or partners to pursue this technology. (Contact me for details).
The design goal at NREL and Hawaii is to come up with a monolithic device that needs no external electrical connections. The simple version of the Duquesne cell requires an external bias power source (which could be powered by a fuel cell using some of the hydrogen produced), but which would still be a net producer of power. Net yields are already at 8.5%, and are expected to improve.
Though commercial devices are a ways off, photosplitting of water is another process that could supply hydrogen by purely renewable means.
2002 Hydrogen Program Review Meeting - Renewable Production Electrolytic
Science…27 Sept 02
"Efficient Photochemical Water Splitting by a Chemically Modified n-TiO2"
Science 17 April 98
"A Monolithic Photovoltaic-Photoelectrochemical Device for Hydrogen Production via Water Splitting"
( I can provide pdf copies of the Science articles).
Subject: UFTO Note ? T&D R&D Gaining Attention
Date: Fri, 21 Mar 2003
Here are some high-level pointers to an array of resources related to ongoing developments in T&D research, sponsored by DOE, NSF and the CEC (Calif Energy Commission), which demonstrate a new level of attention to grid reliability and security.
Let me know if I can be helpful digging deeper into any of these areas.
DOE - Office of Electricity Transmission and Distribution
The Dept. of Energy will announce, perhaps as early as next week, the creation of a new office for T&D reporting directly to the Secretary, as recommended in the National Transmission Grid Study* done last year. The Office of Electricity Transmission and Distribution will start with a budget of $85 million, however all but $8 or 9 million is already committed to earmarks ($27 M) and high temperature superconductors ($40 M). The office will be headed by Jimmy Glotfelty, an assistant to Abrahams. The staff currently in the Transmission Reliability Program in EERE will move over to the new office.
Meanwhile next week, a new Center will be dedicated at Oak Ridge:
The dedication of the National Transmission Technology Research Center
(NTTRC) and the Powerline Conductor Accelerated Facility (PCAT), the first
working facility of four planned for the Center, will be held March 25.
The Center, sponsored by ORNL, DOE, and TVA, will test and evaluate advanced
technologies, including conductors, sensors and controls, and power electronics,
under a wide range of electrical conditions without jeopardizing normal
operations. The first component of the NTTRC, the PCAT facility, is initiating
its first test protocol with 3M's advanced Aluminum Conductor Composite
-- Overview of NTTRC:
The existing Transmission Reliability Program was reestablished by Congress in 1999 to conduct research on the reliability of the Nation's electricity infrastructure during the transition to competitive markets under restructuring.
Go to "Documents and Resources" for recent studies and materials.
*(May 2002 http://www.energy.gov/NTGS/reports.html)
Calif Energy Commission
The CEC Public Interest Energy Research program (PIER) has a very active
effort underway in Transmission Research. They recently released
a 140 page "Electricity Transmission Research and Development Assessment
and Gap Analysis - Draft Consultant Report" -- now available online along
with other materials and presentations:
This report is one of two reports which were discussed at a public workshop held March 12, 2003 at the CEC.
National Science Foundation
Directorate for Engineering, Elec. And Communications Systems
1. Workshop on Modernizing the Electric Power Grid, Nov 02
Starting on slide 14 of James Momoh's presentation there is a good overview
of the EPNES initiative (next item)
2. NSF/ONR Partnership in Electric Power Networks Efficiency and Security
This solicitation seeks to obtain major advances in the integration
of new concepts in control, modeling, component technology, social and
economics theories for electrical power networks' efficiency and security.
It also encourages development of new interdisciplinary research-based
curriculum... Proposals were due Feb 3.
3. The Power Systems Engineering Research Center (PSERC)
PSERC is an NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, involving a consortium of13 universities working with government and industry. The website has a huge array of reports and publications.
For the NSF's "fact sheet", see:
Subject: UFTO Note - Preheat Standby Diesels with Heat Pump
Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2003
(Many of the stories we’ve been looking represent new technology with big potential impact, but whose commercial availability may take a while. Here’s something very much here and now that may appear to be a small niche, but which could be a valuable feature to be able to offer customers, and even to apply on a utility’s own facilities.)
"Reduce the cost and increase the reliability of a standby generator, with no initial capital outlay."
For standby diesels to start reliably, they need to be kept warm. Standard practice (for 200 kw to 2.5MW gensets) is to attach an electric resistance heater to maintain a temperature of 100-140 degF. As a standard practice, nearly all engines have such heaters, installed either by the engine manufacturer or the distributor. (Watlow and Kim HotStart have most of this market.) Heat can be applied to the oil (which is kept flowing and at pressure), the engine coolant and of course to the fuel itself (which can turn to jelly in cold weather).
For an engine that has to be ready to go at any time with no warning, this electric load (2-8 kw) is (or should be) on all the time, and can as much as $6-8000 per year or more. It's usually a hidden cost, buried in a facility's overall power bill, and it's not something engine makers talk about. Many owners and operators don't even know the heaters are there, and O&M agreements don't usually cover them. The average life of a heater is typically about 18 months. When it fails, it might not be noticed, leaving a cold engine at risk. Replacing heaters adds to the large costs for power -- the biggest single operating cost of owning a standby generator.
If an engine is started cold, it might not even start. If it does start, and especially if it is heavily loaded immediately, heavy wear and tear will come from running cold. Engine life is shortened, and overhauls come sooner. A bad episode can wreck the engine right then and there. (One distributor for CAT told me they recommend keeping an engine warm all the time, and this includes prime power applications, not just standby/emergency. In some applications, codes require it.)
So there are three main issues: the cost for power, wear and tear from cold starts, and the unreliability -- which can undercut the reasons for having standby generators in the first place.
To solve these problems, Energy Resources Management (ERM), Tampa, Florida, sells a specialized heat pump manufactured by Trane.
The 1.5-ton DH-12 air source heat pump saves 80% of the energy and cost of heating. Equally important, the heat pump (primary) runs in series with the heaters (secondary) to provide the redundant heating source needed to protect diesel engines from cold-start risk factors. In addition, resistance heater replacement costs and emissions are reduced (i.e., emissions from utility generation of the power saved).
ERM offers a shared energy savings program. Performance measurement and contracting allows them to provide the heat pump through a turnkey operation with no capital investment by the owner. Trane manufactures, installs, and services the heat pump. Successful installations include public and private sector entities such as Atlanta Hartsfield Intl Airport, MBNA, Bank of America, and the New York Stock Exchange. Municipal utilities and waste water treatment facilities have been early and frequent adopters.
While the savings for one engine may not represent a large amount of revenue, there are a lot of engines out there that could use this (and shared savings revenues continue year after year). There is also the improvement to quick start reliability to consider. This would seem to be a good fit for many C&I customers and utilities themselves.
ERM is looking for customers, of course, and for partners, reps, distributors, etc. to offer the program across the country. Call me for more information.
Nicholas Colmenares, President
Energy Resources Management, LLC
UFTO Note - Bipolar NiMHydride Battery
Date: Fri, 28 Feb 2003
Electro Energy, Inc. (EEI) has developed a new type of rechargeable nickel-metal hydride (BP Ni-MH) battery using a bipolar configuration. A combination of unique materials, a design, and a production process make possible a lower cost technology which out-performs present commercial nickel-metal hydride and lithium polymer batteries in both power and energy.
A key advantage of a bipolar format is that the current path is the shortest possible. In a series arrangement, current passes directly through the separator, across its entire area. This eliminates the need for lugs and cell interconnections, with the additional internal resistance, sealing problems, and structure they bring.
The classic bipolar design (similar to most fuel cell stacks) involves a stack of metal plates, each with an anode applied to one side and a cathode to the other. For batteries, the problem of sealing the edges has proven difficult. EEI's solution is to make each cell a stand-alone sealed flat wafer. The wafer cells are stacked up to make a higher voltage package.
EEI has developed and patented both the design of their battery and the production process for its manufacture. Prototypes exist and have been tested extensively. The US Air Force is evaluating units for use on F16 (and NAVAIR for the F18) jet fighters (1/3 the weight and volume of what they're using now).
Conventional Ni-MH rechargeable batteries represent a $3 billion market currently, and EEI expects to dominate that and other markets, because their battery will deliver more energy and power per unit volume and per unit weight, at lower cost. Cycle life is in excess of 1000 cycles in deep discharge use, and over 12,000 cycles at 40% discharge. Cost will be 1/2 that of Li -Ion, and there are no toxics substances. The technology will be very competitive in the applications requiring high voltage and power, e.g. hybrid vehicles.
The company is seeking equity investment, having received over $15 million in government and other grants, particularly from DOD and DOE. A full business plan is available.
Contact: Mike Eskra, President & COO
Electro Energy Inc, Danbury CT
As a departure from classic cylindrical or prismatic battery packaging approaches, EEI's is a flat, wafer, bipolar design for the nickel-metal hydride chemistry. Individual flat wafer cells have outer contact faces with one positive electrode, a separator and one negative electrode. The contact faces serve to contain the cell and make electrical contact to the positive and negative electrodes. The the two electrode faces are completely sealed at the edge to contain the potassium hydroxide electrolyte. To make a multi-cell battery, identical cells are stacked one on top of each other such that the positive face of one cell contacts the negative face of the adjacent cell resulting in a series-connected battery. Power is taken off at the ends of the cell stack. An outer container holds the cells in compression and provides structural integrity for the stack.
This design has several advantages. The need for conventional terminals,
tabs, current collectors, and cell containers is eliminated. Use of available
space is maximized, with the headspace for tabs and terminals required
in conventional cells eliminated. The path that current has to move within
the electrodes and from cell to cell is minimized, since the current flows
out on the entire surface of the electrodes. Battery impedance is reduced,
making this design particularly effective for high rate, power applications.
The wafer stack has excellent thermal management properties. Cells act
like cooling fins, conducting the heat out to the side. Compared to conventional
cylindrical and prismatic packaging designs, there is considerable reduction
in cost, weight, and volume.
Subject: UFTO Note - Virtual Utility Technology License Available
Date: 13 Feb 2003
The "Virtual Utility" (VU) concept provides intelligent coordination and aggregation of distributed resources through web-based connectivity. ABB developed an extensive portfolio of technology and IP which is now being made available for license, as an "enabler" in distributed generation markets. This comes as a result of the company's recent move to tighten its business focus.
The ABB VU technology is centered on an internet-accessible control center by which clients or aggregates of clients can intelligently monitor and control distributed resource assets. Both distributed generation (DG) and distributed storage assets can be connected by the VU into a single highly flexible integrated power resource.
Both utilities and large consumers of energy will use the VU. Once commercialized, the VU can be sold as either an enterprise-wide "microSCADA-like" system or as an Internet service provider where customers can call in to monitor and control their assets. The value provided by such a product could consist of any or all of the following:
- Universal monitoring ? the VU can offer the possibility of monitoring
all distributed resource assets regardless of type, manufacturer, or date
- Power reliability ? with interconnected DG one can guarantee higher availability for important loads.
- Peak shaving ? fast dispatchable generation can avoid maximum demand surcharges and curtailment orders.
- Network optimization ? connection of DG units can be optimized to ensure the most economic and secure network; microgrids can be operated where bulk power supply reinforcement cannot be justified.
- Network safety ? protection settings can be monitored and calculated dynamically to ensure that power flows do not affect network protection parameters.
- Energy trading ? aggregated units can provide surplus energy from non-DG sources, which then can be sold.
Several business models are possible using such tools. Revenues can possibly be generated proactively ? by engaging in peak shaving, energy trading, premium power, etc. or by providing a service bureau business to allow others to access and control the DG equipment through a server that contains the required intelligent applications and communication technology. This latter arrangement relieves the customer of the responsibility of maintaining the database, updating software applications, etc. and provides the financial attractiveness of a lease rather than a purchase.
The Virtual Utility can have a significant impact on the bottom-line of a DG project or series of projects. Although the cost of the control and communication system is usually a small part of the cost of the project, its performance can be a determining factor in overall economic success. An intelligent control system can ensure the lowest energy and maintenance costs, the largest profit, the best payback, or even the greatest system reliability. It also can aggregate many small power generators into a more marketable mass.
The VU concept can be applied to both new and existing assets. As a minimum, the retrofit to existing emergency back-up generators would provide value in automatic testing and reporting. Further benefits of peak shaving and aggregation of load can also be realized depending on the VU owner.
VU also solves another serious future issue for distributed generation -- the ability to connect many various distributed devices involving different technologies and manufacturers. VU thus becomes the infrastructure for all distributed resources and an enabler for market expansion.
The ABB concept is focused on low installation and operating cost, flexible control intelligence, and universal adaptability along with possible integration with existing power system assets. Low costs are achieved through technologies such as a browser based data server, wireless LAN, and the communication and control network. Control intelligence is achieved via economic planning and optimization algorithms, utilizing situation specific dispatching levels, and a hybrid central / local control logic. This platform is universally accessible to all distributed resources through intelligent electronic device configuration and information handling processes.
This intellectual property is represented by a patent portfolio, technical
documentation, business model and market evaluation, and technical expertise
related to hardware, software, and analytical tools. Technical assistance
would be available to assist the integration of this technology into a
current system or developing and commercializing a new system.
For more information, contact UFTO, if you or any company you work with
might have an interest.
Subject: UFTO Note - Leveraging the Feds
Date: Tue, 04 Feb 2003
Federal research programs represent an opportunity for private industry to get additional resources applied to their RD&D projects and other business goals. Many companies, and a few utilities, have been successful at this for a long time.
This discussion is an initial introduction to what it takes to tap the Feds, and DOE/Labs in particular. If there is interest, UFTO stands ready to dig deeper.
The good news is that: it can be done, as evidenced by the companies
that do it successfully and repeatedly ("best practice"). The bad news
is that it isn't easy, especially starting fresh. "Startup costs"
may be considerable, and the ongoing costs are significant as well, particularly
administrative. Companies with a lot experience have advised: don't
do it for a couple $100K; be in for the long haul; it's a means, not an
end; and start with knowing what you want to do. Bottom line-- there are
resources, programs, and mechanisms that can lead to leverage, but if you
want to drink, you have to go to the well.
Federal Tech Transfer
Starting in the early 80's, Congress and executive orders have been steadily reshaping U.S. federal research policy to expand the importance of technology transfer. Over time, it has become easier and easier for federal agencies to grant private parties the rights to technology and IP developed at federal labs. Working with industry is now the norm.
The emphasis on tech transfer is aimed to get results of federal R&D programs into use -- thus fulfilling a (new) mission to help U.S. industry be more competitive. Where these efforts provide resources, industry gets a chance for leverage --it's just the other side of the same coin.
Where federal spending is targeted at policy goals (such as conservation or advancing a new technology), utilities can be particularly appropriate partners. Another point to keep in mind--the labs are always looking for ways to maintain funding for their programs. An outside funder can gain tremendous leverage by adding resources to ongoing programs which can adapt to meet the funder's own requirements.
If a private company wins a government award to develop new technology, it usually has to come up with matching funds (especially if it expects to hold on to the resulting IP). From the company's point of view, their portion is leveraged substantially compared with a go-it-alone approach. (In the case a startup, an equity investor who provides the matching funds will find that his money goes that much farther.)
For a good overview and introduction to federal tech transfer, see the
Federal Lab Consortium's "Green Book", available online or in hardcopy.
http://www.federallabs.org/ (scroll down, on left margin under "Resources")
There are many contracting mechanisms for working with the government, ranging from outright grants to actual fee-for-service. National labs in particular like to say that contracting should not be an obstacle, that they will find a way to make it work. (Non-U.S. companies shouldn't be discouraged from looking into opportunities-- there usually are ways to deal with restrictions that might otherwise interfere.)
- CRADA (Cooperative R&D Agreement)
- Cost Share/Cofund
- User Facilities
- Personnel Exchange
- Data & Information Exchange
- Consulting & Technical Assistance (by Lab personnel)
- Financial Assistance
- Grants (SBIR, Clean Coal, STTR, TRP, ATP, etc.)
- Consortia ("Industry Partnerships")
- Informal Collegial Contact!
The main agency for energy is obviously DOE, and other agencies have
extensive energy programs as well (e.g., DOD , NASA, Commerce, EPA, Agriculture,
Transportation, Interior, etc.). Within DOE, two major programs account
for most of the relevant activity:
- Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EREN) http://www.eren.doe.gov/
- Fossil Energy (FE) http://www.fe.doe.gov/
Solicitations are handled by headquarters, regional program offices,
or labs. NREL and NETL in particular seem to be heavily involved
in supporting headquarters with administering solicitations and managing
NREL-Nat'l Renewable Energy Lab, CO http://www.nrel.gov
NETL- Nat'l Energy Technology Lab; WV, PA -- formerly METC & PETC
EREN provides this site as a general starting point
DOE's Seattle Regional Office publishes a comprehensive compilation
of solicitations -- from multiple agencies and foundations -- relating
to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable development.
They maintain online a 15-20 page "Open Solicitations Summary" and also
send out a monthly email announcement of all new items.
Go to "Open Solicitations" link to see the new monthly listings. Also note instructions on how to be added to the email distribution. The link "Open Solicitations Summary" will take you to the archive where you can download the complete list. (Be sure to look at the last page of the summary for additional information about sources of information.)
On behalf of Fossil Energy, NETL provides alerts, solicitations, CRADA
lore, etc., at:
The "Solicitations" link gives a list of current and future opportunities (plus a link to archives).
All DOE solicitations are now handled through the new centralized Industry Interactive Procurement System (IIPS). It is used to post solicitations and amendments, receive proposals/applications, and disseminate award information. Entities wishing to participate in these solicitations will need to register at the IIPS Webster. Proposals will only be accepted through IIPS, unless otherwise indicated within the solicitation document.
IIPS takes some getting used to. "Guest" users can see most everything,
but navigation is not easy. Guest users click on "Browse Opportunities",
and are stuck scrolling through 100's of listings by number. It's
worth registering for a password, otherwise you can't use the "Main View"
which gives you much better sorting capabilities (e.g., by contracting
>> http://e-center.doe.gov or http://pr.doe.gov
[Caution: Don't be surprised to see that "solicitations" in IIPS include everything DOE buys, from research (RFPs) to light bulbs to janitorial services. The Seattle list is a valuable filter.]
Some additional links that provide information and guidance on working with the government:
Argonne National Lab Tech Transfer Office
Laboratory Coordinating Council
Specifically geared to the major "Industries of the Future" from the DOE Office of Industrial Technology.
DOE Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Program
-- Sign up to receive notices (right margin, at the bottom)
Advanced Technology Program: partners with the private-sector to develop
broadly beneficial technologies. ATP applies across almost any technology
area--R&D, (*not* commercialization). Proposal teams often include
private companies, startups, labs, universities, etc.
Utilities and DOE
Some utilities have been working closely with DOE for a long time, and others are just now entering the game.
Electricity Advisory Board http://www.eab.energy.gov/
Established Nov 2001 to advise on electricity policy issues. Specifically, the DOE's electricity programs; current and future capacity of the electricity system; issues related to production, reliability and utility restructuring; and coordination between the DOE and state and regional officials and the private sector on matters affecting electricity supply and reliability. Chair is Lynn Draper, CEO of AEP. Many of the CEO members come from utilities that are household words in DOE. (NiSource, DTE, SoCo, etc.)
The Clean Coal Program, which began mid 80's, has funded major projects
with companies like AEP, Tampa Elec, SoCo, etc. The recent solicitation
(Clean Coal Power Initiative Round One Proposals - 8/02) attracted a number
of new players (Ameren, IP&L, LG&E, Wepco, etc.).
Efficiency & Renewables likewise sees old and new companies at its conferences and responding to its solicitations, particularly in DG, Storage, Hydrogen, etc. (SCE, Nipsco, DTE, Com Ed, SRP...)
Here is some advice compiled from conversations with people at DOE and in the utilities.
Know what DOE is trying to do that fits with your company's goals
(attend workshops, review meetings, conferences etc.)
Get to know the people and programs, and understand what they're up
( might be able influence what goes into an RFP)
Information/access is public, but only some companies bother to look.
extent of involvement depends on objectives
Work out a strategy, pick out a couple of areas, and put foot in the door.
Key is to find a (programmatic) match and a (contracting) vehicle.
(most DOE work is competed and cost-shared)
Follow the solicitations; understand procedures
Congressional earmark is a possibility, but doesn't make any friends in DOE
Companies participate (in R&D/DOE) for variety of reasons
(PR, reg. pressures, ...and sometimes... actual business goals!)
Don't need to be insider (but it doesn't hurt). DOE welcomes new faces and new ideas.
UFTO Note - Sugar to Hydrogen by Aqeous Catalysis
Date: Wed, 08 Jan 2003
In its August 29 issue, Nature magazine published an article by a distinguished group of researchers at the Univ. of Wisconsin who have succeeded in producing hydrogen and fuel gas directly from sugars and other compounds (ethylene glycol, glycerol, etc.). The novel new process is not biological, but catalytic, and represents a key breakthrough-- it is the first time anyone has successfully done catalysis of carbohydrates in the aqueous phase, and at moderate temperatures and pressures to boot. (Catalysis is always done in the vapor phase, but previous attempts with carbohydrates have always failed because reaction products clog up the catalyst.) Filed patent applications have very broad claims.
The process is called Aqueous Phase Carbohydrate Reforming (ACR), and it represents a fundamentally new route for renewable fuel gas generation from biomass. The ACR process is simple, versatile and scalable over several orders of magnitude. It can utilize safe, non-flammable feedstocks as well as renewable biomass derived feedstocks. Also, hydrogen is produced with low carbon monoxide concentrations, using a single reactor vessel.
Feedstocks are plentiful and varied. To date, best results have been obtained with methanol and ethylene glycol (storable and transportable as liquid fuels!). Glycerol, derived from the esterification of fats and oils, will be available in large quantities as a byproduct of making biodiesel fuel. A lot of attention is being given to biomass ethanol, however ethanol production relies on fermentation of glucose. Processes that break down cellulosic biomass produce a mix of higher sugars which are not readily femented. ACR is much less picky.
A near term product involves using ACR to produce a fuel gas (light alkanes) fed to an IC engine genset. As fuel cells mature, they can be wedded to ACR hydrogen production.
A company, Virent Energy Systems, has been established to commercialize
the technology. They are confident that scale-up will largely be a matter
of standard chemical engineering, and intend to pursue aggressive product
development and licensing strategies across a wide range of applications
and markets. They are looking for investment to finance cost sharing
of government grants. (A small investment now will enjoy substantial leverage
if an ATP award comes through. The company is optimistic.) I have
a brief summary and status update from the company which I can provide
on request, and a business plan is available.
Dr. Mark Daugherty, CEO
Virent Energy Systems, Madison, WI
University press release:
Paper in NATURE:
An account aimed at high-school students