Energy and Global Warming News for May 7: Recovery Act boosts clean energy; Q1 cleantech investment up sharply; Are lithium-air battery coming?

Recovery Act Has Bolstered Clean Energy

Over a year after the Recovery Act of 2009 was signed into law, the U.S. Department of Energy says that $32.5 billion of the $36.7 billion it was authorized to spend is “spoken for,” and nearly 5,000 projects have been funded. The department has selected all but 1 percent of the proposals that will receive grants and contracts. So far, however, only $3.5 billion has actually been spent, and the money has only directly created 22,841 jobs.

This week, the DOE’s senior advisor for Recovery Act implementation, Matt Rogers, provided an update on the department’s progress in identifying projects that will receive funding. While much of the Recovery Act focused on funding for near-term recession relief, including tax relief for individuals and support for local and state governments, the funding allocated to the DOE was mainly for projects with longer term payoffs, including building infrastructure such as wind farms and battery factories and conducting research.

Rogers highlighted the battery industry as an area that needed investment, noting that while much of the technology was first developed in the United States, “we’ve allowed 99 percent of battery manufacturing to move over to Asia.” Currently there are only three battery factories operating in the U.S., he says. Through the Recovery Act and related incentive programs, 30 battery and battery component factories are now being built. This will result in the capacity to build enough batteries for 500,000 electric vehicles a year, “whereas today we can hardly touch the topic,” Rogers says.

Meanwhile, the DOE is funding research projects that could increase the performance of batteries threefold to sixfold, while reducing costs by 90 percent or more. Rogers noted that today’s batteries can store about 100 watt-hours per kilogram; research projects aim to increase that to as much as 600 watt-hours. He also said batteries cost at least $1,000 per kilowatt-hour (although automakers such as GM say that batteries are less than that now); the factories being constructed are supposed to cut this in half by 2012. Long-term research projects aim to reduce it to as little as $50 per kilowatt-hour by 2020 via new materials and battery designs. Mass-market electric vehicles with a range of around 80 miles will soon be on the market (although some more expensive electric cars already have a much greater range); the goal is to make practical, affordable electric vehicles with a range of 400 miles.

Clean-tech investment in first quarter of 2010 improves

Two Southern California electric-car manufacturers helped improve clean-tech investment in the first quarter of 2010 compared with the same period the year before, according to analysis from Ernst & Young released Thursday.

The $100 million that Coda Automotive Inc. raised, combined with the $93 million pulled in by Fisker Automotive Inc. helped the Industrial Products and Services category attract the most clean-tech capital investment of the quarter: $261.7 million, or 36% of total financing.

Compared with the first quarter of 2009, the segment drew 490% more in funding.

Clean-tech investment is recovering faster than overall venture capital investment, Ernst & Young concluded based on data released last month from Dow Jones VentureSource.

With 72 deals in the first quarter – more than double the number for the same period last year — clean-tech companies hauled in $733.3 million in funding, representing a 68% increase from the year before. California had the lion’s share, with 32 deals pulling in $487.9 million, compared with $151.7 million from 10 deals in the first quarter of 2009.

Total venture capital investment grew just 11% in the same period to $4.7 billion.

Analysts credited rising oil prices and signs of a stabilizing economy with encouraging investors to sink their money into clean technology.

Will lithium-air battery rescue electric car drivers from ‘range anxiety’?

Twenty miles southwest of Chicago, government researchers are pursuing the automotive version of Mr. Right.

He’s powerful. He has endurance. He isn’t too expensive to have around. And he never, ever explodes.

That’s one way to think of the perfect car battery, which will have to balance many different factors to lure the American masses to the electric car.

For the moment, though, Mr. Right is just a set of equations in a notebook.

“Theoretically, it works on paper,” said Don Hillebrand, who directs the Center for Transportation Research at Argonne National Laboratory.

At Argonne National Laboratory and elsewhere, researchers are just beginning to crack the basic science behind a promising technology: lithium-air batteries. If their theories are right, these batteries will have five to 10 times the energy of lithium-ion batteries, the big battery pack that’s powering the first wave of electric-drive cars.

“Lithium-air is where we’re going,” Hillebrand said. “You can’t foresee the future, but right now, that’s the place where I think we see the endpoint, the end solution for … the battery. The battery everybody’s looking for.”

But as engineers get closer to perfecting the lithium-ion variety, lithium-air has a long journey to replace the batteries of yesteryear.

China Farm Gets Shocking Amount of Power From Cow Poop

China does everything big, and cow poop-to-power projects are no exception.

A 250,000-head dairy operation in northeast China plans to open the world’s largest cow manure-fed power project in September, according to General Electric Co., the company supplying four biogas turbines to the Liaoning Huishan Cow Farm in Shenyang. For comparison, the largest U.S. dairy farms have 15,000 cattle.

The project deals with a few environmental problems in one swoop. As the dairy industry grows in China, it is generating more smelly and polluting waste. Booming electricity demand brings bigger challenges in transmitting power to rural areas, where many dairy farms already happen to be located.

Not to mention climate change. According to a recent U.N. report, the farm-to-table carbon footprint of the dairy sector accounts for 4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. About half of the emissions from milk are methane.

“There is a huge potential in this,” said Michael Wagner, marketing leader with GE Energy. “We are looking around the world to expand.”

But biogas is nothing new. In China, household digesters have been in use for decades. And by 2005, there were already 1,500 large-scale biogas plants at livestock farms and industrial waste sites.

China’s newest livestock digester will reduce piles of dung, yield fertilizer and heat, and will supply 38,000 megawatt-hours of power annually to the state’s power grid, enough to meet the average demand of some 15,000 Chinese residents. It produces biogas, a methane and carbon dioxide mix emanating from manure, grease, sewage or other organic materials allowed to stew in an oxygen-free chamber.

The government has big plans to use biogas to meet some energy goals. China wants 300 million rural residents to use biogas electricity by 2020, in part from 10,000 large-scale biogas projects on livestock farms, according to a 2007 plan from the National Development and Reform Commission.

DOD’s research arm weighs reactor technology for forward bases

With the U.S. military grappling with the logistics of transporting fuel to troops in Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s advanced research arm is exploring nuclear reactor technology it hopes could eventually power bases and produce fuel.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, requested proposals last month for developing “deployable nuclear reactor technologies” for locations that cannot be hooked into a power grid or easily supplied with fuel.

The agency was founded in the late 1950s with the goal of putting the United States on the cutting edge of defense technology and heading off future threats. But problems faced by troops in Afghanistan are demanding immediate attention.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus described the difficulty of getting fuel to troops in Afghanistan at a National Press Club event last week. It requires, he said, Marines to take it by ship to Pakistan, where it is loaded onto trucks and driven through the Hindu Kush to the vehicles, planes, generators and water purifiers in Afghanistan.

Along the way, Mabus said, costs soar, troops are diverted from other vital jobs and fuel convoys make easy targets for the enemy. “One of the most dangerous assignments today in Afghanistan is convoy duty,” he said. “We lose Marines in convoy duty; we lose sailors.”

In June 2008 alone, 44 trucks and 220,000 gallons of fuel were lost in attacks or accidents while delivering fuel to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, according to a report provided by the Pentagon to the Government Accountability Office.

David Kilcullen, president and CEO of Caerus Associates, a counterinsurgency consulting firm, said at a recent Center for New American Security event in Washington that he saw the Marine Corps’ Camp Leatherneck at Helmand “shut down” for 48 hours last December to focus on bringing in a fuel convoy that would power its operations for the next month.

Wind powers 350 Walmart stores in Mexico

Almost a quarter of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s retail locations in Mexico began receiving electricity today from a 67.5-megawatt wind farm in the southern state of Oaxaca.

The project is owned and operated by El©ctrica del Valle de Mexico, a subsidiary of France’s EDF Energies Nouvelles Group. Carpinteria, Calif.-based Clipper Windpower Inc. supplied all 27 turbines for the wind farm, and Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart will buy its electricity over a 15-year period.

Financial terms of the power-purchase agreement were not disclosed.

About 350 of Wal-Mart’s self-service stores, pricing clubs and restaurants in Mexico City and the states of Morelos and Mexico are receiving electricity from the Oaxaca project. The wind farm will reduce energy costs by about $1 million and carbon dioxide emissions by about 137,000 tons annually, said Kory Lundberg, a company spokesman.

Wal-Mart’s regional unit, Walmart de M©xico y Centroam©rica, aims to supply 100 percent of its nearly 2,000 retail locations with wind, solar, hydropower and other renewable energy resources by 2025.

With another 6,400 stores around the globe — including 4,300 in the United States — Wal-Mart ranks as the world’s largest retailer. The corporation aims to supply all of these units with green power but has not set a deadline to do so, explained Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart’s vice president for sustainability.

Wal-Mart supplies about 400 of its stores in Texas, California and Hawaii with wind and solar power. The company is also experimenting with other renewable energy sources.

“We’re kind of agnostic when it comes to technology,” Kistler added. “We’re looking at the best fit for the geography.”

Africa needs about $3 bln a year to adapt farming – expert

The cost of preparing the world’s agriculture to deal with increasing global temperatures will be $7 billion annually, a senior climate change researcher said this week at an African conference designed to push farming up the climate change agenda.

Africa, the world’s poorest continent that is forecast to be the most affected by global warming, should receive 40 percent of that amount, said Gerald Nelson, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Africa’s farmers complain they can no longer predict when the rains or dry heat will come and crops like maize have proven highly vulnerable to changing weather patterns.

“Forty percent of the $7 billion a year should be spent (in Africa) on rural roads, better irrigation methods and helping famers improve their productivity by using sustainable farming methods,” Nelson told AlertNet in the sidelines of a conference in Nairobi aimed at developing strategies to ensure climate change negotiators take account of agriculture and the plight of rural farmers in their next round of talks.

A study by the International Livestock Research Institute projects that crops yields globally may fall by 10 to 20 percent by 2050 if nothing is done to adapt to increasingly erratic rainfall and drought.

IFPRI warned that climate change could lead to an additional 20 percent of malnourished children, 40 percent of those in sub-Saharan Africa. For its report, IFPRI used two climate models to project grain and meat output in 2050. Both models predict higher temperatures but differ on how much precipitation would increase. One has higher temperatures and precipitation in China and the other has more rainfall in sub-Saharan Africa, for example.

Aboard the Plucky ‘Plastiki’

On March 20, the Plastiki, a 60-foot vessel made from recycled plastic bottles, set sail from San Francisco Bay on an 11,000-mile voyage to Sydney, Australia. The goal of the voyage, masterminded and financed by a banking heir, David de Rothschild, is to call attention to environmental issues like bottled water and plastic waste. Solar panels and windmills power the vessel, and the crew uses Skype, Twitter and blogs to stay in touch with the outside world. They’ve also posted regular video updates.

After 38 continuous days at sea, the crew anchored at Christmas Island on April 27 for a few days’ rest before the next leg, a 20- to 30-day voyage to Fiji. Before the boat sailed, we chatted by e-mail with Jo Royle, the Plastiki’s 30-year-old skipper, about the challenges that the crew has faced. Here are excerpts, edited for brevity and clarity.

16 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for May 7: Recovery Act boosts clean energy; Q1 cleantech investment up sharply; Are lithium-air battery coming?

  1. Daniel Ives says:

    Hey Joe,

    I just wanted to make you aware of this interview with Sen. Graham discussing the clean energy bill in case you weren’t already:


  2. prokaryote says:

    Policy and Rhetoric Ignore Real Limits of Nation’s Coal Reserves

  3. J.A. Turner says:

    It would be pretty neat if military bases could produce their own biogas and biodiesel on site. That would complement solar panels for power and reduce their dependence on deliveries of oil. The longer the supply line, the more valuable energy-selfsuffiency would be.

  4. Headline grammar check: ” Are lithium-air battery coming? ” should read “Are lithium-air batteries coming?

  5. paulm says:

    It is going to be interesting to see how even developed states cope with these xtreme events every few years or so. I read somewhere that Holland spends nearly 70% of GDP on flood management.

    As Nashville Floods Recede, An Opportunity Emerges

    “It feels like the earth is mad at us,” said one volunteer.

    On Tuesday, President Barack Obama declared Nashville a federal disaster area.

  6. Michael T says:

    NOAA & NCDC U.S. Climate Summary for April 2010:

    Maps & Graphics:

    “Record warmth prevailed throughout the Northeast as Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey each had their warmest April on record. Illinois also had its warmest such period. In total, 31 states had above-normal temperatures”:

  7. paulm says:

    stunning video…Easter Island syndrome

    Jeremy Jackson: How we wrecked the ocean

  8. EV Enthusiast says:

    It looks as though Joe’s pronouncement that fuel cell vehicles are dead is premature if not quite false:

    [JR: I’m letting this through Wishart, even though 1) you are mischaracterizing my position for the umpteenth time and 2) you are using a pseudonym.

    Let’s be clear. I do not claim HFCVs are “dead” (whatever that means) just that they are a dead end from a technological, practical, and climate perspective — and that is quite different. It is an analytical judgment that Toyota’s announcement does little to change. And I must say, the bloom is off the rose for Toyota.]

  9. Lore says:

    From the Washington Post:

    Graham says climate bill cannot pass Senate

    “Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday that it has become “impossible” to pass climate and energy legislation at the moment, a declaration that likely dooms the bill’s chance of passage this year.

    Graham had spent months trying to craft a bipartisan compromise on the issue with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), but he suggested late last month that he was unwilling to continue after Senate Democratic leaders said they hoped to push through immigration legislation this year.

    His new statement is more definitive and suggests that the one Republican who could serve as a bridge to the GOP on a climate bill will abandon the effort altogether.”

  10. David B. Benson says:

    In today’s TNYT Biz section there was an article about China’s greatly increased carbon (i.e., coal) intensity. The worst maybe is transporting coal by truck since there isn’t enough rail capacity currently.

  11. Leif says:

    paulm, #8: Thank you for the link. I took the liberty of reposting it a couple of times on CP but lost the thread to give you credit. Every one should watch the video especially all the congress-folks.

  12. prokaryote says:

    Feds nix corroded undersea pipe in Cook Inlet

  13. prokaryote says:

    Aurora in May, over North America.

    Geomagnetic storms that ignite auroras actually happen more often during the months around the equinoxes. It is not well understood why geomagnetic storms are tied to Earth’s seasons while polar activity is not. But it is known that during spring and autumn, the interplanetary magnetic field and that of Earth link up. At the magnetopause, Earth’s magnetic field points north. When Bz becomes large and negative (i.e., the IMF tilts south), it can partially cancel Earth’s magnetic field at the point of contact. South-pointing Bz’s open a door through which energy from the solar wind can reach Earth’s inner magnetosphere.

    An equinox happens each year at two specific moments in time (rather than two whole days), when there is a location on the Earth’s equator where the centre of the Sun can be observed to be vertically overhead, occurring around March 20/21 and September 22/23 each year.