If you want to understand NovaTorque’s electric motor, think of french bread. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has devised a highly efficient electric motor that, as an added bonus, is cheaper to produce than conventional motors because it doesn’t rely on magnets composed of rare earth elements like neodymium. “We can use low-cost ferrite magnets,” Dan Mertens, vice president of marketing at the company during a recent meeting at the Emerging Technologies Summit in Sacramento. “Neodymium is 15 to 17 times more expensive.” The company released its first products, two and three 1800 RPM motors, at the end of October. The company, which has received funds from NEA, has been in relative stealth mode for a while.
“We could face serious shortages in three years,” Dave Goldstein of the Electric Vehicle Association told me yesterday in the hallway at The Networked EV conference in San Francisco. The fears have pushed the stock of Molycorp from $12 to $13 in August to the $34 to $36 range, making it the best performing green IPO of the year at least for the moment.
NovaTorque’s motor consists of conical hubs containing magnets separated by a tapered motor shaft (left). The hub is the component that looks like a space capsule and the shaft has the band of copper. The key here is that the interface between the magentic surface of the hub and the shaft is diagonal, not flat like in most motors. A diagonal interface dramatically increases the surface area between the two, thereby increasing magnetic flux transmission (good) and reducing materials (also good). The magnets are the raised surfaces on the side of the conical hub.
NovaTorque also manages to reduce the amount of copper needed for the coils in the motor. Less copper, less cost. Efficiency in the motor is greater than average due to the fact that the magnetic field is axial, i.e. it runs in a oval around the axle, instead of being radial, i.e. circumnavigating it. One advantage: the axial field means NovaTorque can use gain-oriented transformer-grade sette, which lowers eddy current losses and boosts efficiency. HIgher efficiency should also result in fewer breakdowns: a large percentage of mechanical failures can be traced to ambient waste heat generated by motor inefficiencies.
As soon as the moratorium on deep sea oil and gas drilling was lifted, my colleague Cliff Krauss reported last week, Royal Dutch Shell began lobbying eagerly to get final approval for its long-delayed plans for exploratory drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. The petro-giant is paying for national advertising as part of a campaign to convince the public and the government that it is taking safety precautions that would prevent the kind of catastrophe that unfolded in the gulf from happening in the Arctic.
Yet the Arctic is well known to be more fragile ecologically than the gulf. And on Thursday, the Pew Environment Group released a detailed report brimming with charts and maps that explores the question of how well the government and industry would be equipped to deal with a blowout and spill there. The report concludes, not so well. And here are some word-for-word highlights on why:
* The Arctic Ocean is a unique operating environment, and the characteristics of the Arctic OCS [outer continental shelf] “” its remote location, extreme climate and dynamic sea ice””exacerbate the risks and consequences of oil spills while complicating cleanup.
* Oil spill contingency plans often underestimate the probability and consequence of catastrophic blowouts, particularly for frontier offshore drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
* The impact of an oil well blowout in the U.S. Arctic Ocean could devastate an already stressed ecosystem, and there is very little baseline science upon which to anticipate the impact or estimate damage.
* Oil spill cleanup technologies and systems are unproved in the Arctic Ocean, and recent laboratory and field trials (including the Joint Industry Project) have evaluated only discrete technologies under controlled conditions.
* Certain environmental and weather conditions would preclude an oil spill response in the Arctic Ocean, yet an Arctic spill response gap is not incorporated into existing oil spill contingency plans or risk evaluations.
So the researchers concluded that far more study is needed of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Modeling should be devised to project the trajectory of oil flow in sea ice conditions should a spill occur, they added.
And deployment exercises should be conducted to determine how effective a spill response would be in such a remote, sparsely populated region “before introduction of new offshore oil spill risks,” the report said. (The study includes a detailed critique of Shell’s planning scenarios in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.) In other words, the study’s message is that the Arctic is not ready for such deep-sea drilling operations.
The region’s emissions of greenhouse gases are less than 5 percent of the world’s total. But emissions from the Middle East and North Africa surged 88 percent from 1990 to 2004, the third-largest rise in the world and more than three times the world average, with which they are now roughly in line.
* Per capita greenhouse gas emissions vary widely across the region with extremely high rates for several oil and gas producers. Qatar had the world’s highest per capita emissions, with 56.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2006, while Egyptians emitted just 2.25 tonnes each, according to U.N. statistics.
* Models project a hotter, drier, less predictable climate, producing a 20-30 percent drop in water run-off in the region by 2050, mainly due to rising temperatures and lower precipitation.
* The Arab world has 5 percent of the world’s population but only 1 percent of its renewable fresh water. Arabs now number 359 million, compared with 128 million in 1970. The Arab population is expected to reach almost 600 million by 2050.
* As early as 2015, Arabs will be surviving on an average of less than 500 cubic meters of water a year each, a level defined as severe scarcity, far less than the world average of more than 6,000 cubic meters per capita. Thirteen Arab countries are among the world’s 19 most water-scarce nations. People in eight Arab countries already use less than 200 cubic meters a year each.
* The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that the Mediterranean will rise 30 cm to one meter this century. A one-meter rise would affect 42,000 square km of Arab land — an area four times the size of Lebanon — and 3.2 percent of the Arab population, against 1.28 percent worldwide. Egypt, Bahrain and Qatar are especially vulnerable.
Our troops overseas have found that the fighting force of today needs a more portable, sustainable and reliable approach to fuel supply, so it’s too bad that many members of the incoming Congress have indicated their lack of support for sustainable energy. However, that hasn’t stopped the Department of Defense from moving forward with efforts to wean the U.S. military from its dependence on fossil fuels. In the latest example, an experimental U.S. Marine base has been set up in Afghanistan, designed to run almost entirely on renewable energy.
As reported by American Forces Press Service writer Donna Miles, “Green Baron” refers to Marine Corps energy czar Col. Bob Charette, who earned the moniker due to his previous service as a fighter pilot. Charette explains that the heavy load of electronic equiment needed by today’s Marines requires an even heavier load of generators to run it all, creating an enormous logistical challenge. Another key issue is the risk associated with fossil fuel convoys, which would be reduced if bases could run at least partly on energy scavenged on-site.
Sustainable energy is becoming commonplace at domestic military facilities, but the new project represents a significant new development, because it would be the first at a forward operating base in a combat environment. The base, located in Helmand province, is occupied by Company I of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The sustainable energy equipment consists primarily of solar powered generators along with other renewable sources, all made with existing, commercially available components. The installation was tested for 190 days at a Marine Corps facility in the U.S. and it needed non-sustainable power only for generators to run observation equipment. So far Charette reports that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the base will perform as anticipated.
“Support Our Troops” is the rallying cry claimed by many a politician, but it appears that support stops at the gas tank. The Department of Defense has made repeated attempts to boost public awareness regarding the need to reduce fossil fuels in military operations and to plan for the impact of climate change on national security, and yet certain members of our incoming Congress fully intend to harass and undermine climate scientists, thwart progress and stall future action.
Canada recently made solar news headlines by opening a massive solar energy farm in Sarnia, Ontario, reportedly the largest in the world. Calgary-based energy and pipeline company, Enbridge, will continue to own the farm, while Arizona-based First Solar Inc. will handle operations and maintenance. Once fully developed, the 950-acre farm will create enough clean energy to fuel nearly 13,000 homes a year, pumping over 80 megawatts of solar electricity into Ontario’s grid. The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) will then purchase the solar energy produced over the 20-year contract it signed with Enbridge. Factoring in facilities already under construction, Sarnia’s green energy portfolio could reach 850 megawatts as a result of this newest installation.
In Early October, the company restructured its senior management and designated Al Monaco as President of its Green Energy department. A new focus on clean energy at such an influential organization could mark a big step forward for the growth of solar technology in Canada. “Enbridge intends to stabilize our environmental footprint at 2009 levels,” says Monaco, “under a program that includes a commitment to generate a kilowatt of renewable energy for every kilowatt of power our operations consume.”
News of Enbridge’s massive solar farm is a positive step forward for Ontario’s clean energy initiative, as well as being a point of pride for Canada as a nation. With the world’s largest photovoltaic farm established on Ontario soil, Canada’s position as a global leader of solar energy seems that much more established. Following Enbridge’s and First Solar’s example, it is likely that more Ontario and international solar developers will flock to the region to reap the benefits of the province’s generous investment climate and lucrative incentives.
At least one energy measure will see congressional action this week, and a handful of hopeful Senate Democrats have lofty plans to cut through the partisan gridlock of recent months to move several climate and energy bills by year’s end.
An alternative vehicles bill (S. 3815) will receive a procedural vote this week, although efforts to pass it could be stifled by politics. Lawmakers will also keep pushing other energy measures including a renewable electricity mandate, an oil-spill response bill and an extension of expiring tax credits, although an already-crowded lame-duck calendar could leave little time to approve them.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved to end debate on the autos bill before the Senate adjourned for recess in September and plans to hold a procedural vote on it Wednesday. Despite some bipartisan support for the measure, it is not likely to find the 60 votes needed to move forward and could face other procedural hurdles even if it does.
The bill would provide tax incentives and loans for the purchase and manufacturing of natural gas vehicles, grants for refueling stations and $100 million for an Energy Department program to accelerate the deployment of plug-in electric vehicles. Although Wednesday’s vote could be the Democrats’ last chance to pass energy legislation this year, some lawmakers, including Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), are not giving up.