Three demonstrations won attention and approval in Cleveland on a snowy Friday in February. The TEDxCLE conference at the renovated Capitol Theater brought together Northeast Ohio “creators, catalysts, entrepreneurs, artists, technologists” and other thinkers and doers.
The three entrepreneurs extolling their alternative energy projects showed three phases of how an idea can turn into a commercial success: pre-production, production and testing, and full production.
Aaron LeMieux showed off his flashlight-size device that one person can use to generate electricity. When LeMieux was hiking the Appalachian Trail a decade ago, he identified the problem that would become the focus of his work: how to turn the kinetic energy of a hiker into electrical energy that could keep devices charged (and reduce the battery weight he carried for 1,500 miles).
After obtaining an engineering degree, several patents and some seed money, LeMieux has put his career as a business consultant behind him and started his own company , Tremont Electric. His nPower Personal Energy Generator is about to go to market (priced at $149). LeMieux is already at work on a considerably larger model that would use the same engineering to turn waves on Lake Erie into electricity. His big idea: constant, renewable power can charge a phone and change the world.
Benson Lee has spent two decades developing working fuel cells at his company, Technology Management Inc. Using research from the Ohio labs of the old Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio), now a division of BP, Lee has a solid oxide cell that can be configured to run on natural gas, soy oil or farm wastes.
Standing in front of a dishwasher-size blue metal box that is the case for one of his ready-to-ship fuel cells, Lee talked about the global need for locally generated electricity – in rural areas, battle zones and other places beyond the range of the standard electrical grid.
Lee said TMI is one of 12 companies that have demonstrated working cells. In partnership with a local technical college, Stark State in Canton, and Lockheed Martin, TMI is developing a military application that promises to greatly reduce the need for a front-line unit to transport and secure large quantities of gasoline or diesel fuel.
The Obama administration announced a third round of stimulus funding today for a high-risk, high-reward technology development program at the Energy Department.
The $100 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, follows two similar announcements last fall and the recent delivery of 37 grants of about $4 million each to projects that range from a demonstration capturing carbon dioxide with artificial enzymes to the low-cost manufacture of silicon wafers for solar cells.
Today’s grants will go to projects tackling problems related to grid-scale energy storage, electrical power technology, and energy-efficient cooling technologies and air conditioners.
“If you can think of a technology on the cusp of greatness and go make improvements to it, now you’re the first person to do that. You’ve made it a better thing,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu told an energy innovation conference in Washington, D.C. “Galileo didn’t invent the telescope; he improved the telescope.”
He added, “Another way to say this is, if you’re the 100th person to look under a rock, you probably won’t find something new, but if you find a new rock or a new way to look at an old rock, then that’s something.”
ARPA-E is designed to help identify and spur development of transformational energy technologies. The program was created in a broad research and education bill in 2007 and funded with $10 million in a 2009 omnibus bill and $400 million in the stimulus.
DOE awarded more than $150 million last October to a broad range of projects. And the agency announced a second $100 million funding opportunity last December. The winners of those grants, which should be announced in the coming weeks, will work in the areas of converting carbon dioxide into liquid fuels, carbon capture and storage, and batteries for electric vehicles.
“We learned from the first [funding opportunity] that was wide open, and we saw some pockets of innovation,” said Arun Majumdar, ARPA-E’s director. “And we said, ‘Let’s go further into that and bring back people we could not support at first.’”
The announcement was made today during the agency’s first ARPA-E innovation summit. The event has brought together the original 37 ARPA-E grant winners, project designers, academics, industry and government officials and venture capitalists.
China’s Geely Automobile Holdings (0175.HK) is researching new energy cars, joining its rivals in developing clean tech vehicles as Beijing gets ready to roll out incentives to promote such technology.
But such development is still in the relatively early stages, with no new products expected within the next one to two years, Geely Chairman Li Shufu said on Wednesday.
Geely’s potential foray into new energy cars comes as other Chinese auto companies such as BYD Co Ltd (1211.HK) and Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp (BAIC) are pumping money into developing similar cars, aiming to cash in on state incentives and the nation’s push for renewable energy.
“Every company in the auto industry is looking at it right now,” Li told reporters on the sidelines of the opening of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing.
“But this needs time and people need patience. It can’t be done within the next one to two years,” he added.
BYD plans to start selling its first electric car, the e6, in the first quarter of 2010, Paul Lin, manager of the company’s marketing department said in late December.
Li said the business potential of new energy cars would be better if oil prices continue to rise.
His comments come on the back of Beijing’s rejection of heavy machinery maker Tengzhong’s bid to buy GM’s [GM.UL] money-losing Hummer brand. Analysts say that deal failed to win regulatory approval in part because it did not gel with China’s agenda of curbing pollution. [ID:nTOE61O065].
Separately, Li said Geely’s car sales look good so far this year.
Geely’s parent, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, China’s largest non-state auto firm, is bidding for Ford Motor Co’s (F.N) Volvo unit. Li declined to comment on the status of that deal, but said the company has no plans for more acquisitions in the near term.
As the meeting broke up, T. Boone Pickens reminded me that I’d criticized his energy plan a while back, and he hadn’t forgotten it.
That was the summer of 2008, and a lot’s changed since then.
Pickens met with the Chronicle’s editorial board last week and boldly predicted the country will have an energy plan by Memorial Day.
“We’ve never had an energy plan for America,” he said. “We’ve had cheap oil.”
I won’t hold him to the date, but I admire his belief that this Congress could get anything done, let alone an energy plan for which it has shown a stubborn lack of understanding.
Pickens would like to see Congress pass the Natural Gas Act, complementary bills in the House and Senate that would expand the use of the fuel to power heavy trucks and fleet vehicles. By itself, it’s not an energy plan, but it’s better policy than much of the energy legislation we’ve seen in recent years.
Natural gas prices have fallen almost 70 percent during the past year and a half, prompting the erstwhile oilman to tweak his much-hyped Pickens Plan. It’s still full of unbridled wildcatter optimism, but by de-emphasizing wind power and offering a more realistic strategy for converting vehicles to run on natural gas, Pickens now has a more workable plan.
“I have refined the message,” Pickens said.
The U.S. government must take “strong actions” to stay competitive with countries such as China and Japan in a race to build wind turbines and nuclear reactors, General Electric Co. chief Jeffrey Immelt said.
“Right now we have no certainty around an energy future,” Immelt, GE’s chief executive officer, said today in a speech to the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Conference in Washington’s Maryland suburbs. “Let’s not take this growth industry and give it to every other country in the world but the U.S.”
Asia makes more than half the world’s wind and solar energy equipment, and is gaining ground as U.S. factories lose out to cheaper labor and higher demand for clean energy. China for the first time topped the U.S. in wind-turbine manufacturing and installations last year, the Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council said yesterday in a report.
Immelt has helped lead the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, or USCAP, a coalition of businesses and environmental groups calling for Congress to put a cap on carbon-dioxide emissions. The group says legislation is needed so companies such as utilities and their suppliers know how to proceed with long-term investments. A measure passed by the House last year has stalled in the Senate.
Phasing In Caps
In a bid to get climate legislation moving, three Senators, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, Connecticut independent Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, may put forth carbon-reducing measures tailored to specific industries, according to K. Whitney Stanco, a Washington-based analyst for the research firm Concept Capital.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the administration wouldn’t rule out an approach that phases in carbon dioxide limits on different industries as long as it places a cost on emissions.
“No one is ruling out anything at this point,” Chu told reporters today at the energy conference.
A so called sectoral approach may phase in carbon caps beginning with utilities, said Duke Energy Corp. CEO Jim Rogers. To win public support, politicians should reframe the issue to focus on the economic benefits of building cleaner sources of energy, he said.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) unveiled the latest stage of a sweeping effort to green the Capitol last week, when his office became the first to install new lighting and water fixtures designed to dramatically slash energy use in House offices.
His office is the first to undergo the efficiency upgrades, which will eventually cut energy use by 23 percent and water use by 32 percent throughout all House office buildings.
“There are very concrete things we can do that are meaningful and beneficial to all of us that don’t require us to have debates that are unresolvable about the esoteric things that we sometimes discuss around here,” Welch said of the effort.
The 30-month project will eventually replace 3,000 light fixtures, install low-flow bathroom fixtures and upgrade heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems in all House office buildings.
Capitol officials hope to reduce energy consumption by 23 percent and water consumption by 32 percent and achieve $3.3 million in energy savings “” equivalent to taking nearly 1,700 cars off the road or planting 2,600 trees.
“These very historic but older buildings are not that efficient from an energy standpoint,” said Bob Lane, executive director of the Chief Administrative Officer’s Green the Capitol initiative. “We are now going to be at a new plateau. We’ll never return to the old days.”
The private sector is covering the upfront costs for the renovations. Energy service company NORESCO laid out $34 million for infrastructure upgrades in the Rayburn, Longworth, Cannon and Ford House Office buildings and the House page dormitory.
The firm will be repaid from the savings in energy costs, expected to be more than $67 million. The arrangement, said Capitol Architect Stephen Ayers, allows federal agencies to fast-track energy-efficiency projects by avoiding the appropriations project.
“It’s the biggest investment we are making to date in energy conservation and sustainability,” said Ayers.
The contract also guarantees that no taxpayer dollars are used to pay for the upgrades.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed rebates of up to $3,000 to help homeowners pay for the cost of making their homes more energy efficient as part of a $6 billion program to create jobs.
In his latest step to convince Americans he can ease their economic woes, Obama traveled to Savannah Technical College to unveil a plan that could create tens of thousands of jobs.
The announcement came as White House economic adviser Larry Summers predicted that winter blizzards were likely to distort U.S. February jobless figures, which are due on Friday.
The White House had been relieved when the jobless rate dropped below 10 percent in January and could be preparing Americans for an uptick.
The efficiency plan, which must be passed by Congress, is intended to prompt Americans to invest in everything from insulation or new windows to overarching energy upgrades of their homes, creating construction and manufacturing jobs and boosting energy efficiency.
Consumers would be eligible for between $1,000 and $1,500 for simple home upgrades such as insulation, duct sealing, water heaters, air conditioning units, windows, roofing and doors.
Homeowners looking for more comprehensive energy retrofits would be eligible for a $3,000 rebate if the efficiency measures lead to a 20 percent energy savings.
“These are big incentives,” Obama said. “You’d get these rebates instantly from the hardware store, from the contractor.”
Obama, whose $787 billion economic stimulus plan approved a year ago has been criticized by Republicans as a waste of money that failed to create jobs, acknowledged that his clean energy proposals would face opposition.
“Each of these things are hard, some of them have some costs on the front end, and working stuff through Congress is ‘more than a notion,’” he said.
With unemployment just below 10 percent, Americans are anxious about the country’s finances, nudging Obama’s approval ratings to 50 percent or below and potentially dimming his fellow Democrats’ prospects in November’s congressional elections.
The program involves a range of incentives for consumers, including rebates from stores that sell building materials, companies that install the equipment and utility energy efficiency programs. Consumers could also get rebates for a range of home energy upgrades.
Yesterday Attorney General Jerry Brown announced a completely new kind of renewable energy legislation, introduced by State Assembly member Nancy Skinner (D) – designed to add more renewable energy storage to the grid.
You’ve heard of Renewable Energy Standards. These are (state level only, so far) rules that require that electric utilities add more renewable energy every year, in the 24 states that have them.
Using the legislation, four Northeast States have been able to reduce their greenhouse gases on an EU scale – to below 1990 levels by contributing to the build-out of about 17 Gigawatts of renewable energy along with neighboring Canadian provinces. Other states, Like Michigan, are on track to do so with elegant policy design that gets solar rooftops down to as little as $6,000 each.
Reducing greenhouse gas levels below 1990 levels simply takes replacing the dirty 19th century energy they used to have on the grid with more clean renewable 21st century energy. That’s what passing Renewable Energy Standards does: it forces utilities to replace old power plants that they have grandfathered in to evade Clean Air Act rules for the last 40 years, and add more low carbon electricity.
But California might be the first state to implement another necessity borne from adding more renewable energy to the grid: adding more storage for renewable energy. In a sense, the storage industry will the equivalent of the 19th century railroad industry. Railroads had to be built in order to cheaply bring coal to coal-fired 19th century power plants that were near the cities of those times, and even to stoke homeowners individual fireplaces. Like the railroad, the storage industry will be a trillion dollar industry.
The European Union today approved the first new genetically modified (GM) crop for domestic growing in more than a decade, ending what has been a long stalemate over a backlog of GM crops awaiting cultivation approval.
The decision by the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive arm, will allow farmers to grow Amflora potatoes, a controversial GM crop developed by the German chemical giant BASF. The potatoes can be used solely for industrial or animal feed purposes, the bloc said.
The potatoes, engineered to produce high levels of starch for use in paper production or textiles, are the first crop to be approved for farming since a strain of Monsanto’s insect-resistant corn 12 years ago. That decision set off a storm of protest from European countries, some of which, like Austria and Germany, have invoked science-based protection clauses to prevent the corn’s growth (Greenwire, Oct. 21, 2009).
The decision also raises the possibility that other GM crops could soon win cultivation approval, including Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn, which is engineered to resist the glyphosate herbicide. Corn containing Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant gene currently dominates U.S. farming but has not gained a foothold so far in Europe. Such approval could come soon, the bloc noted.
Along with the cultivation approval, the commission announced that it would proceed with plans to allow European countries to independently decide if GM crops can be grown in their borders. The move, long expected, is a remarkable turnabout for an institution that has traditionally focused on creating a single European market for nearly every industry, including agriculture.
Biotech, chemical and seed companies have long railed against what they viewed as stall tactics in the commission against approving new GM crop varieties for growing this past decade. In announcing the decision, the European Union’s new health commissioner, John Dalli, said all fears about the potato’s use had been satisfied.
“Responsible innovation will be my guiding principle when dealing with innovative technologies. After an extensive and thorough review … it became clear to me that there were no new scientific issues that merited further assessment,” Dalli said. “All scientific issues, particularly those concerning safety, had been fully addressed. Any delay would have simply been unjustified.”
The Amflora potatoes were the first GM crop to win approval because there is a demand for them in several European countries, industry sources said. The potato will be planted in Germany and the Czech Republic this year, with additional plantings likely to come in Sweden and the Netherlands, the European Union said.
The potatoes have been criticized by health officials and environmental groups not for their primary genetic modification, which silences a protein expression, but for their use of antibiotic-resistance genes as markers — genetic signposts that are needed to easily evaluate whether the silencing techniques have been successful.
Some scientists and environmental groups fear that the marker gene used in Amflora potatoes, which is important for resistance to several infectious diseases, could be taken up by bacteria, increasing their virulence. A review last year by the European Food Safety Authority said such a risk is remote and confirmed the potato as safe to cultivate, though two EFSA members dissented on the decision.
The use of antiobiotic-resistance genes as markers has gone out of fashion in the biotech world, and BASF’s efforts to use a potato engineered more than 15 years ago are anachronous, said Marco Contiero, the E.U. policy director on genetic engineering for Greenpeace.
“The use of antibiotic resistance genes as markers is an old technique that has been abandoned,” Contiero said. “Biotech companies nowadays use alternative methods to develop GM plants. Since antibiotic resistance in human and animals is a widely recognized medical problem, any unnecessary use of this technology in plants would be totally irresponsible.”
Contiero said he was flummoxed that a crop using antibiotic-resistance genes was the first to be approved by the European Union.
“Of all the applications, this is the most problematic,” he said.
Several GM crops authorizing for sale, but not growing, in the European Union do contain similar resistance genes, the commission noted, including corn and cotton varieties developed by Monsanto.
In some ways, the GM potatoes raise less concern about their unintentional spread, since potatoes do not spread through cross pollination, and are instead vegetatively propagated. The potatoes must also be cultivated prior to producing seeds, to avoid any risk of dissemination, the European Union said.
The approval also mandates strict separation between the GM potatoes and organic and GM-free varieties. (Unlike the United States, European countries are required to label products that have been genetically engineered.) Through contracts with farmers, BASF will oblige contracting farmers to isolate GM potatoes throughout the product chain and deliver the tubers exclusively to starch processing plants.
Ford plans to unveil an electric vehicle strategy for Europe today designed to help the automaker diversify its vehicle lineup so that between 10% and 25% of its global vehicle sales can come from hybrid or electric vehicles by 2020.
“We are taking our electrification strategy full-force into Europe,” said Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of global electrification.
By 2013, Ford plans to introduce five different hybrid or electric vehicles in Europe. The plan closely resembles Ford’s electric vehicle introduction schedule for North America.
The plans, to be announced today at the Geneva Motor Show, begin with an electric Transit Connect commercial van in 2011 and an electric version of the Ford Focus by 2012.
By 2013, Ford expects to offer two yet-to-be named gas-electric hybrid vehicles, and a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle is to go on sale.
Gioia said future hybrid and electric vehicle sales volume depends on the price of gas, government incentives and how quickly battery technology develops.
But as first reported by the Free Press in January, Gioia said she expects 10% to 25% of Ford’s total vehicle sales will come from hybrid, plug-in hybrid or battery-electric vehicles by 2020 — even though total hybrid vehicle sales accounted for just 2.4% of U.S. sales in 2009.
Germany’s Daimler AG will work with BYD Co. of China to develop an electric vehicle to be sold on the Chinese market.
The agreement follows Daimler’s deal with Tesla Motors Inc., a U.S. company that develops electric cars. China last year became the world’s largest market for cars, and its many cities make it a desirable location for electric cars.
Dieter Zetsche, Daimler chairman and the head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, said BYD’s experience in battery technology will help the team produce a competitive car. “Daimler’s know-how in electric vehicle architecture and BYD’s excellence in battery technology and e-drive systems are a perfect match. Thus, we will be able to participate in the potential growth of electric mobility in China, currently the largest auto market of the world,” Zetsche said.
Daimler recently launched an electric smart car and is set to launch an electric version of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class later this year