Energy and Global Warming News for April 29: Concentrated Solar Set to Shine; Russia’s Putin voices fears for polar bears; Dutch cut estimate of geologic CO2 storage in half

Concentrated Solar Set to Shine

A California-based startup, Amonix, has received $129 million in venture-capital investments to further its commercialization of concentrated photovoltaic technology. The company’s product combines powerful lenses, a tracking system, and solar cells for large, highly efficient solar-power installations. The funding could give the company, and the emerging field of concentrated photovoltaics, the boost it needs for widespread utility-scale deployments.

“We’ve looked at 100 solar companies in the last 18 months, and Amonix is the one that stood out to us as having breakout potential,” says Ben Kortlang, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which led the recent investment.

Amonix recently launched its newest solar concentrator, which converts one fourth of the sunlight that falls on it into AC electricity. That’s compared with the approximately 18 percent system efficiency–including inverters that convert solar’s DC power to useable AC power–of the most efficient photovoltaic systems that don’t use special optics or track the sun.

To collect sunlight as efficiently as possible, Amonix starts with a massive 23.5-meter-by-15-meter array. The array is covered with thin, plastic Fresnel lenses, each measuring 350 square centimeters, that focus sunlight to an area that’s .7 square centimeters. The sunlight, concentrated to 500 times its normal intensity, hits an ultra-efficient multi-junction solar cell that converts 39 percent of the light into electricity. The cell, made by Spectrolab, is the most efficient in the world, demonstrating more than 41 percent efficiency in lab tests. To further enhance performance, Amonix uses a tracking system that keeps the lenses pointed within .8 degrees of the angle of the sun throughout the day.

Russia’s Putin voices fears for polar bears

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, better known in the West for his tough-guy image, expressed concern Thursday for the fate of Arctic polar bears threatened by climate change.

“The polar bear is under threat. Their population is currently only 25,000 individuals,” Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying after a recent trip to an island in the Arctic Ocean.

Although Putin is better known in the West for pushing a muscular foreign policy and tightening control over the Russian political system, he has occasionally shown compassion for wildlife and nature.

His press service and the Russian Geographical Society said that Putin went to the Arctic to visit Russia’s most northerly border post and take part in a Russian scientific expedition.

“The reduction in the surface of the ice sheet, the melting of the ice, all this adds to the complications in the conditions of life” of the polar bears, he said.

He helped scientists put a tracking collar on a 230-kilo (506-pound) polar bear as part of an observation programme,

Last year he condemned the hunting of baby whitecoat seals, saying it was a “bloody business”

The big question: How much CO2 can the Earth hold?

The Dutch used to discover new worlds across unexplored seas. Now, they are beginning to trace the edges of a new undiscovered country, and it is right beneath their shores.

The Netherlands, a country that chose to build many of its cities below sea level, is famous for its pragmatic, long-term planning. So it should be no surprise that, when it comes to efforts to store carbon dioxide underground for a millennium or more, Holland has been leading the way, planning for years to turn declining natural gas fields off their shores into storage sites.

Initial estimates of the fields were promising. It seemed 40 years of emissions from eight large coal-fired power plants could be stored. Then scientists looked closer, probing each site’s geology, to disturbing results.

Some fields were too small or perforated by drills to store CO2, they found. Others were stubborn, their rocks likely to resist the injection of the gas.

Soon enough, the Dutch had to cut their storage estimate in half.

It is a disappointing result that should be kept in mind as estimates of CO2 storage potential, which mostly exist on countrywide or regional levels, are refined and localized, said Filip Neele, a research geologist here at the geosciences branch of TNO, the Dutch national lab of applied sciences.

In some cases, Neele would not be surprised to see storage estimates fall by up to 95 percent compared with the original projection. Though even then, he added, the capacity would be still large thanks to the vast size of the available storage formations.

“This is likely to be true for any large-scale inventory of storage capacity,” Neele said. “If you look at a country scale and try to assess the storage potential, you’re very likely to grossly overestimate the storage potential.”

Welcome to the new terra incognita. As politicians and businesses push forward with carbon capture and storage, or CCS, as their “bridge” to renewable energy, geologists are scrambling to properly estimate how much CO2 can be stored in deep, water-flush rock formations — called saline aquifers — that have long been ignored by, well, pretty much everyone. They are blank spaces below the map and are only beginning to be better understood.

House panel approves $84B research, innovation bill

The House Science and Technology Committee last night approved, 29-8, an $84 billion research and education bill that reauthorizes an innovative energy technology research program at the Energy Department.

The committee approved the bill (H.R. 5116) with a substitute amendment that would keep key science agencies on a path to doubling their budgets from 2007 appropriated levels after hours of debate on nearly 60 amendments.

“Honestly, this bill is a big deal and is important,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.). “It’s a big deal and important for our country and for this committee’s stature in the Congress. It’s a big deal and an important step in leading our innovation agenda.”

In addition to authorizing big boosts in funding for DOE’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes for Standards and Technology over the next five years, the legislation would authorize $3.15 billion in spending at DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, through fiscal 2015. That funding level, laid out in a manager’s amendment offered by Gordon, is a 7 percent decrease from the funding level passed out of subcommittee last month.

The funding cut in the manager’s amendment — 10 percent of the original bill’s authorization level — was a move to earn the support of Republicans who have lamented such big spending increases during an economic downturn. But the effort did not appease all concerns.

Most Americans still breathing dirty air — Lung Association

More than half of the U.S. population lives in areas whose air is often unhealthy, the American Lung Association said in a report released today.

The group’s annual State of the Air report found that while air quality in many regions of the country has improved, about 58 percent of Americans — about 175 million people — still live in areas with dangerous levels of soot or smog.

Compared with last year’s report, the study found that fewer Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution. The 2009 assessment showed that about 186 million people lived in areas with unhealthy air (Greenwire, April 29, 2009).

The report looks at levels of ozone and particle pollution from monitoring sites across the country between 2006 and 2008. Those are the most current quality-assured data available nationwide for the analysis, according to the study.

The association credits the improvements in part to reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants and the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines.

“State of the Air 2010 proves with hard data that cleaning up air pollution produces healthier air,” said Mary Partridge, American Lung Association national board chairwoman.

Still, said Janice Nolen, the association’s assistant vice president of national policy and advocacy, “one thing to keep in mind is, this is not clean air.” She said that while the country has made improvements, “we are not where we need to be.”

World needs clean energy revolution: UN chief

Rich and poor nations need a “clean energy revolution” in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said here Wednesday.

“We cannot achieve the (poverty-reduction) Millennium Development Goals without providing access to affordable modern energy,” he said as he opened a day-long energy conference.

Noting that 1.6 billion people around the world lack access to electricity while two to three billion still rely on traditional energy sources such as firewood, peat or dung, the UN boss said access to energy must be expanded “in the cleanest, most efficient way possible.”

Ban spoke as he launched a report by his advisory group on energy and climate change that calls for “universal access to modern energy services” by 2030 and stresses the need to cut energy intensity by 40 percent also by 2030.

Energy intensity is measured by the quantity of energy per unit of economic activity or output.

“The aim of providing universal access should be to create improved conditions for economic take-off, contribute to attaining (the development goals by the 2015 target) and enable the poorest of the poor to escape poverty,” the report said.

It added that curbing global energy intensity would require developed and developing countries to strenghthen their capacity to implement effective policies, market-based mechanisms, investment tools and regulations with respect to energy use.

GE’s leader issues an energy warning

While the rest of the world invests in renewable, nuclear and cleaner energy sources, the U.S. continues to fall further behind, General Electric’s chairman and CEO said Wednesday in Houston.

In an interview before the company’s annual meeting, Jeffrey Immelt said the situation eventually could put the nation at a competitive disadvantage.

“We just seem to be stalled,” he said.

Over the next five years, China will have installed five times more than the U.S. in power capacity, Europe is moving aggressively into offshore wind power, and Asia is focusing on solar energy, he said.

Only two of about 50 nuclear plants under construction globally are in the U.S., he said. “It’s just not enough.”

Immelt called for a comprehensive government effort to put standards into place so businesses can invest in technologies that have a solid future.

“Some leadership in Washington would be helpful,” he said, emphasizing that he’s not focused on any one technology.

If the United States doesn’t do it, GE will have to go overseas. “We have to go where the action is,” he said.

GE recently announced it would invest about $200″‰”‰million in European offshore wind projects, especially in the United Kingdom and Norway. The investment will create about 2,000 jobs.

17 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for April 29: Concentrated Solar Set to Shine; Russia’s Putin voices fears for polar bears; Dutch cut estimate of geologic CO2 storage in half

  1. prokaryote says:

    Fast Food Restaurant Puts Carbon Footprint on the Menu

    A federal class-action lawsuit was filed late Wednesday over the oil spill on behalf of two commercial shrimpers from Louisiana, Acy J. Cooper Jr. and Ronnie Louis Anderson.

    The suit seeks at least $5 million in compensatory damages plus an unspecified amount of punitive damages against Transocean, BP, Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and Cameron International Corp.

    Jim Klick, a lawyer for Cooper and Anderson, said the oil spill already is disrupting the commercial shrimping industry.

    Landry said a controlled test to burn the leaking oil was successful late Wednesday afternoon. BP was to set more fires after the test, but as night fell, there were no more burns. No details have been given about when more were planned were given during the news conference.

    The decision to burn some of the oil came after crews operating submersible robots failed to activate a shut-off device that would halt the flow of oil on the sea bottom 5,000 feet below.

    Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was briefed Thursday morning on the issue, said his spokesman, Capt. John Kirby. But Kirby said the Defense Department has received no request for help, nor is it doing any detailed planning for any mission on the oil spill.

    President Barack Obama has directed officials to aggressively confront the spill, but the cost of the cleanup will fall on BP, spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

  2. prokaryote says:

    You coul use a huge baloon – a bell shaped form to control the updrift of the oil spill.

  3. prokaryote says:

    The other approach is designing and fabricating an underwater collection device (dome) that would trap escaping oil near the sea floor and funnel it for collection. According to NOAA, this approach has been used successfully in shallower water but never at this depth (approximately 5,000 feet). NOAA reports construction of such a dome has already begun.

  4. prokaryote says:

    Unfavorable winds set to push Gulf of Mexico oil spill into Louisiana

    Oil a long-range threat to southwest and southeast Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas

  5. prokaryote says:

    Royal Dutch Shell profits up 50% on oil price

    Shell’s chief executive Peter Voser said the turnaround in results for the first quarter of the year were “driven largely by our own actions”, citing growth in production and exploration of new oil fields.

    But oil price rises on the international markets have also played their part.

    The average cost of a barrel of oil for the first three months of the year was $76. That compares with an average price of $41 a year ago.

  6. prokaryote says:

    Google Powers Up Its ‘Earth Engine’ with Eye on Saving the Amazon

    “Obviously, they’re not going to be able to send an auditor to every forest in the world, that’s just not feasible,” Moore points out. “But with Google Earth Engine, because all the data is in the cloud, and analysis too, it can keep track of what analysis was run, what the parameters of that analysis were, and how they got to their results — all of that will be thoroughly auditable.”

  7. prokaryote says:

    Germany to lobby for tougher EU climate goal

    Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said Wednesday Germany wants the EU to commit to cutting its emissions by 30 percent by 2020.

    The current unilateral commitment is a 20 percent cut.

    He says the recession already has brought the 20-percent-goal within reach and Germany supports the switch to 30 percent.

  8. prokaryote says:

    Millions of Acres of Southern Forest Lost to Mining and Asphalt
    As Forests Are Destroyed, a Defense Against Climate Change Vanishes

    Deforestation in the United States

    The United States is losing significant forest cover to suburbanization, mining and infrastructure development. Most U.S. forests have been logged and some are on their second or third rounds of logging. Forests can naturally regenerate, but not if they are paved over, which is why this round of deforestation is so disconcerting.

    According to the U.S. Forest Service, approximately 12 million acres of southern forests will be lost to suburbia between 1992 and 2020. Another 19 million acres will be lost by 2040 unless there are changes in the pattern of development that now favors low density housing, strip malls and exurban road construction near cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Richmond.

    Forests and Climate Change

    By losing forest, the United States also loses one of its best defenses against climate change. According to Forest Service carbon accounting tools, the 21 million acres of forests that are expected to be lost to sprawl in the next 20 years sequester roughly 32 million tons of carbon per year. Furthermore, when cleared for development, carbon stored in these forests is also lost, amounting to approximately 8 million tons per year.

    Taken together, lost carbon sequestration capacity and emissions from clearing will represent a carbon footprint of at least 40 million tons per year by 2030. To put this into context, this amount is roughly 13% of the U.S. emissions reduction target President Obama announced at Copenhagen.

  9. prokaryote says:

    Heavy Rain in Assam, India

    In mid- to late April 2010, torrential rains and violent winds downed electric lines, damaged homes, uprooted trees, and displaced some 150,000 people in the eastern Indian state of Assam, according to news reports. The hardest-hit area was Lakhimpur District, roughly 400 kilometers east of Assam’s principal city of Guwahati.

  10. prokaryote says:

    Quake analysis rewrites history books

    New Madrid quakes were smaller than originally thought.

    A series of earthquakes that hit the North American heartland nearly 200 years ago were considerably smaller than reported in the history books, according to research presented at a meeting this week.

    The quakes struck the New Madrid fault zone 200 kilometres south of St Louis, Missouri, in 1811 and 1812, long before modern seismometers allowed accurate measurements of their intensity. In the 1980s, however, some scientists estimated that the magnitudes of these quakes were over 8.0, says Susan Hough, a seismologist at the US Geological Survey’s Pasadena office in California.

    “You’ll still find claims that these were the largest earthquakes ever in the contiguous United States,” says Hough, who presented her findings on 23 April at a meeting of the Seismological Society of America, in Portland, Oregon.

    Previously, Hough had stated1 that the earthquake magnitudes were only about 7.5. Now, she has reduced her estimates by another half point, to “right around magnitude 7. Possibly a bit below, possibly a bit above, but not as big as 7.5.”

  11. prokaryote says:

    The ambitious Masdar City project has secured arguably its highest-profile backer to date, after the US government signed a deal with the Abu Dhabi state-owned company behind plans to build one of the world’s premier clean tech hubs.

    Masdar was set up by the Abu Dhabi government in 2006 to advance the development, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy and clean technologies. The company has since secured several high-profile corporate partners and investors, keen to work on plans to build an entire zero-carbon city in the Abu Dhabi desert.

    The US Department of Energy (DoE) has now joined that loose coalition, signing an agreement that will see the department work with Masdar to share best practices and research and development resources, particularly in the fields of carbon capture, water and biofuel technologies.

    The DoE is also expected to support the development of Masdar City which, when complete, will be home to the International Renewable Energy Agency, a collaboration between 48 African, 37 European, 34 Asian, 15 American and nine Pacific states established in January last year to promote adoption of all forms of renewable energy.

    The city will house the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which has close ties to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and talks are also under way to attract a large number of clean tech firms to locate research facilities in the city.

    Covering 2.3 square miles, Masdar City is expected to take eight years to build at a cost of $22bn (£14.5bn). It will be primarily powered by solar energy and has been designed by British firm Foster + Partners to be both carbon and waste neutral. Cars will be banned from its streets in favour of greener mass transit options, while narrow shaded streets will allow for natural cooling.

    Why isn’t the US doing such project?

  12. prokaryote says:

    Plan B: California Braces for Climate Change

    When it comes to environmental regulation, California doesn’t wait for the Feds to ride in and lay down the law. The Golden State led the way on mandating emissions-control equipment in motor vehicles in 1961. It pioneered tailpipe-emissions standards in 1967 and ratcheted them up into the 1990s, prompting the federal government to follow. When the Environmental Protection Agency proved reluctant to tighten fuel-economy standards, California outmaneuvered it in 2002 by limiting carbon dioxide from cars. That decision achieved the same end — and was the first move in the United States to control greenhouse gases.

  13. prokaryote says:

    Purple Pokeberries hold secret to affordable solar power worldwide

  14. prokaryote says:

    Study: Evidence for an Arctic Climate Feedback Loop

    Read more:,8599,1986010,00.html#ixzz0maSm6Z8T

  15. Leland Palmer says:

    The Fresnel lens solar concentrator system is pretty neat, using the multi-junction water cooled solar cells.

    I’ve sometimes wondered why multi-junction high efficiency concentrator solar cells aren’t considered for solar power tower use. Perhaps it is because the sunlight from the power tower heliostats does not strike the power tower absorber perpendicularly, leading to fairly high reflection losses, even if a sophisticated anti-reflection coating is used.

    Perhaps it is because the efficiencies of steam power generation and multi-junction solar cells are roughly the same.

    Adding a gas turbine driven combined cycle to solar power towers, though, could raise the thermal efficiencies of the solar power towers close to 60% – much higher than the Fresnel lens/ multi-junction solar cells.

    And as mentioned on this board in past posts, there are closed loop cooling towers that could be used with some slight loss of efficiency, which don’t need huge amounts of water, for the solar power towers.

    Anyway, it’s good to see the efficiency barriers being overcome, and so many competing technologies being implemented.

    What we need now, of course, is massive WWII scale deployment.