Energy and Global Warming News for July 8th: Low-cost alternative to silicon for solar cells discovered; Major emitters fail to agree on plan to fight climate change reported on low-cost alternative to silicon solar cells

Solar cells could be produced from materials other than silicon under a breakthrough that scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, say could dramatically reduce the price of solar technologies.

Solar companies have been searching for some time for materials that are more efficient, cheaper to produce and use fewer raw materials than silicon. But tests of copper, indium, gallium, selenide (CIGS) or related materials have failed so far to produce a winner.

“People have already demonstrated efficiency levels of up to 20 percent, but the current processing method is costly,” said William Hou, an engineering graduate student at UCLA, in a statement. “Ultimately the cost of fabricating the product makes it difficult to be competitive with current grid prices.”

Hou and his colleagues report in this week’s Thin Solid Films the development of a low-cost processing method for solar cells made from copper, indium and diselenide. Those cells, they say, will have the potential to be produced on a large scale for a number of applications, including placement on backpacks or clothing.

“With the solution process that we recently developed, we can inherently reach the same [20 percent] efficiency levels and bring the cost of manufacturing down quite significantly,” Hou said.

Major Emitters Fail to Agree on Plan to Fight Climate Change

The world’s major industrial nations and newly emerging powers failed to agree Wednesday on specific cuts in heat-trapping gases by 2050, undercutting an effort to build a global consensus to fight climate change, according to people following the talks.

As President Obama arrived for three days of meetings, negotiators for the world’s 17 leading polluters dropped a proposal to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by midcentury, and emissions from the most advancedeconomies by 80 percent. But both the G-8 and the developing countries agreed to set a goal of stopping world temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels.

The discussion of climate change was among the top priorities of world leaders as they gathered here for the annual summit meeting of the Group of 8 powers. Mr. Obama invited counterparts from China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and others to join the G-8 here on Thursday for a parallel “Major Economies Forum” representing the producers of 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. But since President Hu Jintao of China abruptly left Italy to deal with unrest at home, the chances of making further progress seemed to evaporate….

The failure to establish specific targets on climate change underscored the difficulty in bridging longstanding divisions between the most developed countries like the United States and developing nations like China and India. In the end, people close to the talks said, the emerging powers refused to agree to the specific emissions limits because they wanted industrial countries to commit to midterm goals in 2020, and to follow through on promises of financial and technological help….

American officials said they still had made an important breakthrough because the G-8 countries within the negotiations agreed to adopt the 2050 reduction goals, even though the developing countries would not.

And they said a final agreement with developing countries, including China and India, to be sealed on Thursday would include important conceptual commitments by the emerging powers to begin reducing emissions and to set a target date. Now negotiators will have to try to quantifying those commitments in coming months.

While the nations mapped out a general agreement to limit global temperature change, there remained differences between the level of commitment from developed and developing nations. The G-8 draft statement would have the major industrial powers “recognize that global emissions should peak by 2020 and then be substantially reduced to limit the average increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.” The statement by the developing countries would be less definitive, however, saying that scientific consensus supports such a goal.

Defining ‘Sustainable Agriculture’

Conventional farmers, organic farmers, giant agribusiness companies, environmentalists “” all have varying views on what “sustainable agriculture” really means.

Perhaps not for long.

The Leonardo Academy, an environmental think tank in Madison, Wis., is busy refereeing a debate over a new “National Sustainable Agriculture Standard,” under the guidelines of the American National Standards Institute.

One outcome of this effort could be a new “sustainable agriculture” label stamped on food “” similar to the way some food is now marketed as organic. It could also create a system that rewards farmers for doing things like reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer they use.

Rust Belt Democrats say Obama was ‘wrong’ to criticize trade provisions

A pair of Midwestern Senate Democrats took issue today with President Obama’s call to strip language out of the House-passed global warming bill that punishes developing countries with trade sanctions if they don’t do enough to curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

“My thoughts are that he’s wrong,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. “We’ll continue the conversation with the White House.”

“We only agree with the president 98 percent of the time,” added Michigan’s Carl Levin. “Not on this one.”

Duh (see “Krugman vs. Obama on border adjustments in the climate bill“).

Senate panel boosts spending for hydrogen, fossil-fuel programs

The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee today passed a $27.4 billion appropriations bill for energy and security programs that boosts funding for hydrogen, environmental cleanups and fossil-fuel programs.

Overall the subcommittee bill is $1.1 billion below the White House 2010 budget request as scored by the Congressional Budget Office, whose calculations include a $1.5 billion subsidy appropriation to cover DOE’s loan guarantee authority.

Sad — see Hydrogen fuel cell cars are a dead end from a technological, practical, and climate perspective “” Chu & Obama are right to kill the program, Part 1

The measure breaks with the administration on several fronts, including the provision of $190 million for continuing the hydrogen research and development program that the administration had terminated and boosting funding to the fossil-fuel programs, weapons activities and environmental cleanup programs.

“Most of what we do is not spending … it’s investing in the future,” Dorgan said. Vehicles that run on hydrogen fuel cells will be important in the future and “abandoning” DOE’s 189 hydrogen projects “does not serve our interest well,” he said. The House committee bill also reinstated funding for the hydrogen program.

But in the immediate future, the nation will continue to use fossil fuels for energy, which is why the bill includes $700.2 million for fossil-energy projects — $83 million above the president’s request, Dorgan said. More than 60 percent of those funds “will be directed at carbon capture and storage, efficiency and emission reduction programs,” he said.

The funding also includes $20 million for an unconventional fossil-fuel research-and-development program and $15 million — split among the budgets of the offices of fossil fuel, science and the National Nuclear Security Administration — for a “fossil and computer simulation program,” said ranking member Bob Bennett (R-Utah).

The bill also provides an additional $30 million to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve’s funding to continue the design of a storage site in Richton, Miss., according to the committee.

The energy efficiency and renewable energy programs would receive $2.23 billion under the bill, which is $85 million below the administration’s request but $304 million above this year’s level. Besides the hydrogen funding boost, the subcommittee bill includes a $10 million increase for wind technology and an additional $30 million to expand marine and hydrokinetic research. The House 2010 committee bill provides $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Despite Shift on Climate by U.S., Europe Is Wary

The United States, long a laggard in international efforts to reduce global warming pollution, will arrive at the meeting of the world’s major powers in Italy this week carrying a newly assertive message on the dangers of climate change and the steps needed to address it.

The European hosts of the Group of 8 summit meeting welcome the shift. But the new stance also worries them, in part because they fear that the United States is working toward an independent deal with China outside the global negotiating framework.

Iceland Debates the Limits of Geothermal

The tiny nation of Iceland is often cited as a model for the world in its use of renewable energy. Virtually all of its electricity comes from dams or geothermal power plants. Drive around the countryside, as I did last month, and you will see billows of steam coming from some hillsides, a sure sign of a geothermal operation with the occasional hot springs attached.

Some Icelanders are questioning just how long the renewable power can last. At the core of the debate are the country’s efforts to build up a power-intensive aluminum industry “” itself an effort to diversify the economy away from fishing. Already some 80 percent of Iceland’s electricity goes to heavy industry, mainly the country’s three big aluminum plants, according to Iceland’s new environment minister, Svand­s Svavarsd³ttir.

Enzyme Maker Poised to Profit in CO2 Battle

With a $200 million plant due to open next year in Omaha, and American and European renewable fuel standards on the way, the Danish enzyme giant Novozymes A/S sees itself as well-positioned in the market for second-generation biofuels.

“With the climate drive, we find ourselves in a very sweet spot,” Lars Hansen, president of Novozymes North America, told Green Inc. on Monday from the company’s American headquarters and R.& D. center in North Carolina.

The $1.5 billion-a-year company, which traces its roots to a 1925 insulin lab, received a high-profile plug two weeks ago from the Gigaton Throwdown Initiative, a clean-energy brainstorming network linking investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders and policy makers and established by Spring Ventures founder Sunil Paul, a clean-tech venture capitalist. The group pointed to enzymes as a promising climate mitigation technology with the potential for scalable growth.

Rural Cooperatives Add Wind, Cautiously

Rural electric cooperatives across the country are adding more wind power, but it is not always easy.

“These rural electric utilities sit on top of a gold mine “” some of the best wind resources in the country,” said Jeff Anthony, the manager of utility programs at the American Wind Energy Association, in an e-mail message.

Brian Hobbs, an official with the Western Farmers Electric Cooperative in Oklahoma, said that wind now accounts for 11 to 12 percent of his generation mix (coal is another 45 to 47 percent, and natural gas about a third). But since the cooperative began adding wind power in 2003, prices have more than doubled.

Conversion from fossil fuels will save energy, cut CO2 — study

Using electricity instead of fossil fuels to power residential and commercial technologies could lead to massive energy savings and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis released today.

The Electric Power Research Institute study found that using electricity for heating, cooling, clothes drying and other activities could save 71.7 quadrillion British thermal units of energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4.4 billion metric tons by 2030.

Immobilized Microbes Can Break Down Potentially Harmful Phthalates

Immobilized microbes can break down potentially harmful phthalates, according to researchers in China, writing in the International Journal of Environment and Pollution. The microbes might be used to treat industrial waste water and so prevent these materials from entering the environment.

Phthalic Acid Esters (PAEs), commonly known as phthalates, are widely used as additives in polymer manufacture as plasticizers. They do not readily degrade in the environment and so have become widely distributed in natural water, wastewater, soils, and sediment.

Making a Cash Cow Out of Manure Isn’t Easy

“¦Carbon traders scoping out the methane digesters for voluntary emissions reductions are saying it’s a hard sell financially. That remains true even as Congress moves forward on a bill that would create a huge market for compliance offsets — greenhouse gas reduction projects in lieu of reductions at facilities covered by the bill.

Environmentalists Sue Over Energy Transmission Across Federal Lands

A coalition of environmental groups is suing federal agencies in an effort to change the location of corridors to transmit energy across Western lands.

The environmental groups “” including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Wilderness Society, as well as several Western environmental groups “” say that the corridors, which were designated in January by the Bush Administration, are convenient for moving electricity generated by coal plants and other fossil fuels, but do little to facilitate the production of renewable energy on public lands.

Massive Imbalances Found In Global Fertilizer Use, Resulting In Malnourishment In Some Areas And Serious Pollution Problems In Others

Synthetic fertilizers have dramatically increased food production worldwide. But the unintended costs to the environment and human health have been substantial. Nitrogen runoff from farms has contaminated surface and groundwater and helped create massive “dead zones” in coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico. And ammonia from fertilized cropland has become a major source of air pollution, while emissions of nitrous oxide form a potent greenhouse gas.

How Can The World’s Fisheries Be Sustainable?

According to the most recent report on the status of the world’s fisheries by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, fisheries supply at least 15% of the animal protein consumed by humans, provide direct and indirect employment for nearly 200 million people worldwide and generate $US85 billion annually. This same report indicates that 28% of the world’s fisheries stocks are currently being overexploited or have collapsed and 52% are fully exploited.

15 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for July 8th: Low-cost alternative to silicon for solar cells discovered; Major emitters fail to agree on plan to fight climate change

  1. ClaudeB says:

    Re: Electric heating. Here’s the correct link

    Yes, it’s possible, but it’s hard on the grid and you need lots of extra oomph when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Quebec, where 68% of the 3.6 million households heat with electricity, registered an historical peak load of 37,220 MW at 7 a.m. on January 16, this year. By comparison, peak demand for the more populated New York (32,624 MW) and New England (27,395 MW) ISO are much lower,

  2. Alex J says:

    Should be interesting to see how the commercialization of the new solar manufacturing method pans out. And I wonder what’s meant by an “unconventional fossil-fuel research-and-development program”? Are they talking coal-derived synfuels – something that Obama seemed rather misguided on at one point? Until carbon capture and storage becomes practical and as economical as other alternatives (if ever), that’s one of the most foolish fuels imaginable.

  3. Rick Covert says:


    I have a question on who is the biggest consumer of electricity. Now the claim has been made that petroleum refining plants are the biggest consumers of electricity in the US but they don’t address the fact that natural gas is a major feedstock of the oil refining industry. Then there are others who say when you include the electricity for pumping oil out of the ground and transporting by pipeline to refining you then get to where the oil industry is the largest consumer of electricity.

    But what about aluminum smelting? There are aluminum smelting plants which use a lot of electricity during the electrolysis process. I’ve worked in both types of manufacturing but I confess I don’t know which industry actually consumes more electricity. The folks making the argument that the oil industry is the largest consumer of electricity contend that that electricity could be used to charge EVs or plug-in hybrids instead and also undermine criticism that the grid would not be able to support all of these EVs.

    Yes I know of the PNNL study reporting 72% of the fleet could be powered through overnight charging without building a single new power plant but what about that argument regarding electricity use in the oil industry?

  4. Bob Wright says:

    The new unconventional natural gas discoveries have been discussed on this site as a reduced CO2 bridge from coal to renewables. This extraction uses toxic chemicals injected underground and requires uniform (federal) regulation.

    As gas drilling is often in populated areas, the effect on local and regional water quality could possibly do as much damage as mountain top removal.

    Looks like good blog material to me. Thanks.

  5. ClaudeB says:

    Rick: Aluminium smelting uses more electricity. The most efficient smelter in the Americas, the Alouette plant in Sept-Iles, Quebec, used 12,726 kWh of electricity per tonne of AL (link in French). The smelter annual output is 575,000 tonnes.

  6. dhogaza says:

    Aluminium smelting uses more electricity.

    While true, aluminum (sorry, I’m a Yank) is easily recycled, and is, thus dropping the average amount of electricity required to make (say) a beer can).

  7. “The G-8 draft statement would have the major industrial powers “recognize that global emissions should peak by 2020 and then be substantially reduced to limit the average increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.”

    The science says that emissions must peak by 2015 to avoid an increase of 2 degrees, but unfortunately, the politics says that emissions don’t have to peak until 2020 to avoid an increase of 2 degrees.

    [JR: The science isn’t so black and white on 2015 vs. 2020. What happens after matters more.]

  8. James Thomson the second says:

    The most alarming thing is the near total lack of political willpower on display. It’s almost as if climate negotiators measure success by their ability to avoid being pinned down to any form of committment at all.

    Under the circumstances making arm-waving “committments” to reduce emissions by 50% or 80% (or whatever the latest fiction is) is just laughable.

    It’s like going on a diet which ignores cream buns and never starts until tomorrow.

  9. Omega Centauri says:

    About those nonsilicon solar cells. Just how many GW/year of production can they scale up to? The CIGS are great costwise, but Gallium is in too short a supply for them to ever become more than a smallish BB. At least I didn’t see a G in your blurb, but I’m unsure about the supply of the other ingredients. At least we know we can’t run out of silicon.

  10. Pangolin says:

    I thought that the general idea of using electricity for heating was to power ground-source heat pumps for building heat and domestic hot water. In that application electric heating is much more efficient than even the best natural gas boilers. There is also the advantage that ground loops can be combined with solar hot water units to “bank” heat from sunny days to use later. This can work either from load reduction on the ground loop or actual thermal banking of excess solar “income” in the ground loop.

    Considering the massive amounts of natural gas and heating oil used to heat buildings a shift to these heat pumps could be the most effective climate action available.

  11. Gail says:

    And the comments are all jumbled up on the daily news thread, not linked to individual stories, GAH! Latest on G8 climate:

    Concerning fish, there is a movie out called “The End of the Line” which I wish I could see but the closest theatre it played in was in New York, and I’m allergic to cities. The trailer looks intriguing:

  12. Don says:

    Having spent nearly 35 years in the development of renewable energy and environmental systems, I wholeheartedly support the push for making renewables more economically viable. However, this should be done from the perspective of “energy independence” and as “replacement technology” for diminishing oil reserves. In the meantime, we should not cripple our economy by carbon taxes or downplaying the role of nuclear. The climate change models have virtually ignored historic bases for climate change – i.e. seismic, volcanic, and changes in solar activity. In reality, the amount of seismic activity reflecting largely submarine volcanic and tectonic activity over the past 40 years has increased 20X and, on an annual incremental change basis, displays a very close correlation with changes in atmospheric CO2 and temperature profiles during that time. While high-profile scientists have supposedly debunked the impact of underwater volcanic activity on global warming, their explanations seem to ignore fundamental principles of heat transfer and thermodynamics. The article referenced below indicates there will be little impact on climate change due to changes in fossil fuel combustion levels.

  13. David B. Benson says:

    Don (13) — I fear you have the climatology bass-ackwards. Please read “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart: