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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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.
“¦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.
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.
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.
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.