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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

DOE awards $100M in 2nd funding round for 32 Energy Frontier Research Centers

June 24, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding $100 million in the second round of funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs); research supported by this initiative will enable fundamental advances in energy production, storage, and use.

The 32 projects receiving funding were competitively selected from more than 200 proposals. Ten of these projects are new while the rest received renewed funding based both on their achievements to date and the quality of their proposals for future research.

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Lux Research: cost of electrofuels remains far from viable

June 09, 2014

Production costs per barrel of oil equivalent. Source: Lux Research. Click to enlarge.

The cost of electrofuels—fuels produced by catalyst-based systems for light capture, water electrolysis, and catalytic conversion of carbon dioxide and hydrogen to liquid fuels—remains far away from viable, according to a new analysis by Lux Research.

Building a cost model for the electrolysis process—considering electricity from various routes, such as natural gas and coal as well as renewable electricity from biomass, solar, and wind, as well as generously assuming commercial scale production—Lux found that electrofuels produced from microbes cost $230 per barrel, while a catalytic conversion to make electrofuels produces fuels for $208 per barrel.

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Study suggests energy and GHG impacts of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels from CO2 are greater than impacts of existing hydrocarbon fuels

June 06, 2014

Synthetic fuel production from fuel-combustion-based energy and CO2 (top) and from atmospheric CO2 using solar electricity (bottom). Credit: ACS, van der Giesen et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Leiden University, The Netherlands) have concluded that the energy demand and climate impacts of using CO2 to produce synthetic hydrocarbon fuels by using existing technologies can be greater than the impacts of existing hydrocarbon fuels. Their quantitative lifecycle assessment of the environmental merits of liquid hydrocarbon fuels produced from CO2, water and energy compared to alternative fuel production routes is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In their study, the researchers evaluated five hypothetical production routes using different sources of CO2 and energy. The team undertook the work specifically to investigate four general arguments that have been proposed in support of such fuels:

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GM reduced energy intensity and carbon intensity per vehicle in 2013

May 20, 2014

In 2013, GM reduced the energy-intensity per vehicle manufactured 3.5% from 2012, down to an average 2.22 MW/vehicle from 2.30 MW, according to the company’s just released 2013 sustainability report. GM has set a target of 1.97 MW/vehicle for 2020, a reduction of 20% from the 2010 baseline of 2.47 MW.

The carbon intensity (CI) per vehicle dropped to 0.87 tonnes CO2e/vehicle in 2013, down 1.1% from 0.88 tonnes in 2012. The 2020 target is 0.74 tonnes CO2e, down 20% from the 2010 baseline of 0.93 tonnes. (CI includes all manufacturing and non-manufacturing CO2e emissions reported in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Scope 1 & 2 categories (earlier post), normalized by vehicle production. These data include data from some GM JVs.)

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UC Riverside opening Sustainable Integrated Grid Initiative; integration of solar energy, battery storage and electric and hybrid vehicles

May 15, 2014

Schematic of the “New Grid Testbed” components, including renewable energy generation, energy storage, smart distribution and electric transportation Click to enlarge.

The University of California, Riverside is opening its Sustainable Integrated Grid Initiative to research the integration of: intermittent renewable energy, such as photovoltaic solar panels; energy storage, such as batteries; and all types of electric and hybrid electric vehicles. It is the largest renewable energy project of its kind in California.

The first two years of operation is supported by a $2-million contract from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, awarded in January 2012. Construction of the initial testbed platform was also supported by an additional $10 million in contributions from UC Riverside and private partners. The testbed, which is located at UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT), includes:

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SOLAR-JET project demonstrates solar-driven thermochemical conversion of CO2 and water to jet fuel

April 28, 2014

SOLAR-JET concentrated thermochemical reactor. Red arrow indicates ceria reduction (oxygen evolution); blue arrow indicates oxidation (fuel production). Click to enlarge.

The EU-funded SOLAR-JET project has demonstrated the production of aviation kerosene from concentrated sunlight, CO2 captured from air, and water. The process has also the potential to produce any other type of fuel for transport applications, such as diesel, gasoline or pure hydrogen in a more sustainable way.

SOLAR-JET (Solar chemical reactor demonstration and Optimization for Long-term Availability of Renewable JET fuel) uses sunlight in a concentrated solar reactor to convert CO2 and water to syngas (a mixture of hydrogen and CO), which is then processed in a Fischer-Tropsch reactor to aviation kerosene.

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New mesoporous crystalline Si exhibits increased rate of H2 production; potential use in Li-ion batteries also

April 11, 2014

Scheme of Mesoporous Silicon
Schematic of mesoporous silicon Image: Donghai Wang/Penn State. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Penn State have devised a new process for the bottom-up synthesis of mesoporous crystalline silicon materials with high surface area and tunable primary particle/pore size via a self-templating pore formation process.

The nanosized crystalline primary particles and high surface areas enable an increased rate of photocatalytic hydrogen production from water and extended working life. These advantages also make the mesoporous silicon a potential candidate for other applications, such as optoelectronics, drug delivery systems and even lithium-ion batteries. A paper on their work is published in Nature Communications.

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Honda opens Smart Home US in California; produces more energy than it consumes; direct DC-DC EV charging

March 25, 2014

The Honda Smart Home US integrates a number of technologies, and is managed by Honda’s Home Energy Management System (HEMS). Click to enlarge.

Honda marked the opening of Honda Smart Home US, showcasing technologies that enable zero net energy living and transportation, including Honda’s home energy management system (HEMS), a proprietary hardware and software system that monitors, controls and optimizes electrical generation and consumption throughout the home’s microgrid.

The home, located on the West Village campus of the University of California, Davis, is capable of producing more energy on-site from renewable sources than it consumes annually, including enough energy to power a Honda Fit EV for daily commuting. Honda Smart Home is expected to generate a surplus of 2.6 MWh of electricity over the course of a year, while a comparable home will consume approximately 13.3 MWh. The home’s occupant will be able to use less than half of the energy of a similarly sized new home in the Davis area for heating, cooling and lighting. The home is also three times more water-efficient than a typical US home.

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JCAP hybrid photocathode material shows promising performance in conversion of solar energy to hydrogen

March 09, 2014

A new study by Berkeley Lab researchers at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) shows that nearly 90% of the electrons generated by a new hybrid photocathode material designed to store solar energy in hydrogen are being stored in the target hydrogen molecules (Faradaic efficiency).

Gary Moore, a chemist and principal investigator with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, led an efficiency analysis study of the material he and his research group have developed for catalyzing the production of hydrogen fuel from sunlight. (Earlier post.) This material, a p-type (100) gallium phosphide (GaP) semiconductor functionalized with molecular hydrogen-producing cobaloxime catalysts via polymer grafting, has the potential to address one of the major challenges in the use of artificial photosynthesis to make renewable solar fuels.

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Researchers developing DC micro smart grid for charging EV fleets; Li-ion, redox flow batteries and renewables

March 07, 2014

Up to 30 electric vehicles at a time can recharge in Fraunhofer IAO’s parking garage. Click to enlarge.

A team from Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, together with Daimler AG and the Institute for Human Factors and Technology Management at the University of Stuttgart, is developing both the charging infrastructure and the energy management systems required to manage large fleets of EVs in a project called charge@work.

The aim of charge@work is to design a micro smart grid (MSG) capable of supplying the EV fleet with electricity produced exclusively from renewable sources. This year will see the installation of a photovoltaic unit and a small wind power system at the Fraunhofer Institute Center Stuttgart IZS, where up to 30 electric vehicles at a time can recharge at AC charge spots in the Fraunhofer Campus parking garage.

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M5BAT 5MW storage system integrates multiple battery technologies

February 24, 2014

The E.ON Energy Research Center at RWTH Aachen University, E.ON electric utility company, battery manufacturers Exide and beta-motion and inverter manufacturer SMA Solar Technology AG (SMA) have joined forces to build the first multi-technology, modular large-scale 5MW battery storage system.

The unique feature of the M5BAT (Modular Multimegawatt, Multitechnology Medium-Voltage Battery Storage System) storage system lies in its modular design, which combines different battery technologies for optimal use. It consists of lithium-ion batteries to meet short-term demand; high-temperature batteries to supply power for several hours; and lead-acid batteries when the average discharge time is one hour or less.

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ARPA-E awarding $30M to 12 hybrid solar projects; conversion and storage

February 07, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) is awarding $30 million in funding to 12 projects through its Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS) program, which is aimed at developing new hybrid solar energy converters and hybrid energy storage systems that can deliver low-cost, high-efficiency solar energy on demand. (Earlier post.)

Under the FOCUS program, projects will develop advanced solar converters that turn sunlight into electricity for immediate use, while also producing heat that can be stored at low cost for later use as well as innovative storage systems that accept both heat and electricity from variable solar sources.

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Israeli company reports successful stage 1 testing of solar CO2-to-fuels technology

January 26, 2014

Israel-based NewCO2Fuels (NCF), a subsidiary of GreenEarth Energy Limited in Australia, reported completion of stage 1 testing of its proof-of-concept system for the conversion of CO2 into fuels using solar energy. NewCO2Fuels was founded in 2011 to commercialize a technology developed by Prof. Jacob Karni’s laboratory at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

In passing the Stage 1 testing, NCF demonstrated technology that successfully dissociates CO2 into CO and oxygen in a heating environment, simulating the industrial waste heat sources that will be used as one of two energy sources in the commercial product. Importantly, the company said, the dissociation rate of the system was increased by a factor of 200 and the cost was reduced by a factor of 34, relative to the original dissociation apparatus demonstrated in 2010 at the laboratories of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

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Harvard team demonstrates new metal-free organic–inorganic aqueous flow battery; potential breakthrough for low-cost grid-scale storage

January 11, 2014

Cell schematic. Discharge mode is shown; the arrows are reversed for electrolytic/charge mode. AQDSH2 refers to the reduced form of AQDS. Huskinson et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Harvard have demonstrated a metal-free organic–inorganic aqueous flow battery—a quinone–bromide flow battery (QBFB)—as an example of a class of energy storage materials that exploits the favorable chemical and electrochemical properties of a family of molecules known as quinones. Quinones are naturally abundant, inexpensive, small organic molecules, and similar to molecules that store energy in plants and animals. The new flow battery developed by the Harvard team already performs as well as vanadium flow batteries, with chemicals that are significantly less expensive and with no precious-metal electrocatalyst.

In a paper in Nature, they suggest that the use of such redox-active organic molecules instead of redox-active metals represents a new and promising direction for realizing massive electrical energy storage at greatly reduced cost. The technology could fundamentally transform the way electricity is stored on the grid, making power from renewable energy sources such as wind and sun far more economical and reliable.

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Ford unveils C-MAX Solar Energi concept; “plug-in” hybrid not dependent on electric grid can fully recharge from sun

January 02, 2014

Ford’s C-MAX Solar Energi concept combines a rooftop solar panel with an off-board solar concentrator—essentially an inexpensive Fresnel lens canopy. The vehicle moves beneath the canopy during the day to maintain maximum concentrated solar irradiance. Click to enlarge.

Ford Motor Company announced the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, a sun-powered hybrid vehicle that can deliver the efficiency of a plug-in hybrid without depending on the electric grid for recharging. Instead of recharging its battery from an electrical outlet, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept uses a special Fresnel lens-based solar concentrator as a stationary canopy working with solar panels on the vehicle roof to recharge directly from the sun.

The concept vehicle uses a day’s worth of sunlight to deliver the same performance as the conventional C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid (earlier post), which draws its power from the electric grid. Ford C-MAX Energi gets a combined EPA-estimated 108 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway, for a combined 100 MPGe. C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, which will be shown at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, is a collaborative project of Ford, SunPower Corp. and Georgia Tech.

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University of Houston team demonstrates new efficient solar water-splitting catalyst for hydrogen production

December 16, 2013

Researchers from the University of Houston (UH) have developed a cobalt(II) oxide (CoO) nanocrystalline catalyst that can carry out overall water splitting with a solar-to-hydrogen efficiency of around 5%. They report on their work in a paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Corresponding author Jiming Bao, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UH, said photocatalytic water-splitting experiments have been tried since the 1970s, but this was the first to use cobalt oxide and the first to use neutral water under visible light at a high energy conversion efficiency without co-catalysts or sacrificial chemicals.

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NSF/DOE partnership to award up to $18M for H2 production via advanced solar water-splitting technologies; separate DOE solicitation

November 14, 2013

A National Science Foundation and US Department of Energy (DOE) partnership on hydrogen production via solar water-splitting will award (NSF 14-511) up to $18 million to support the discovery and development of advanced materials systems and chemical processes for direct photochemical and/or thermochemical water splitting for application in the solar production of hydrogen fuel.

NSF and DOE are jointly funding this program solicitation issued by the NSF Chemical, Bioengineeering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET) Division; NSF expects to make 3 to 5 awards, each of up to 3-years duration. The DOE Fuel Cell Technologies Office also issued a separate solicitation for work a broader range of hydrogen production technologies. (DE-FOA-0000826)

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JCAP researchers propose protocol for standardized evaluation of OER catalysts for solar-fuel systems

November 03, 2013

Protocol for measuring the electrochemically active surface area, catalytic activity, stability, and Faradaic efficiency of heterogeneous electrocatalysts for OER. Credit: ACS, McCrory et al. Click to enlarge.

Electro-catalytic water splitting to produce hydrogen and oxygen is a key element of solar-fuels devices; identifying efficient catalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) is critical to their realization. (The OER is efficiency-limiting for direct solar and electrolytic water splitting, rechargeable metal-air batteries, and regenerative fuel cells. Earlier post.) However, notes a team of researchers from the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis at Caltech, current methods employed to evaluate oxygen-evolving catalysts are not standardized, making it difficult to compare the activity and stability of these materials.

To address this issue, the researchers are proposing a protocol to evaluate the activity, stability, and Faradaic efficiency of electro-deposited oxygen-evolving electrocatalysts. In particular, they focus on methods for determining electrochemically active surface area and measuring electrocatalytic activity and stability under conditions relevant to an integrated solar water-splitting device. A paper on their work is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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DOE proposing $100M in FY2014 for 2nd round of funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers

October 01, 2013

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced a proposed $100 million in FY2014 funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers; research supported by this initiative will enable fundamental advances in energy production and use.

The Department of Energy (DOE) currently funds 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), which were selected for five-year funding in 2009. (Earlier post.) With support for those centers set to expire in July 2014, DOE has announced a “re-competition” for a second round of funding (DE-FOA-0001010).

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EPA recognizes Volkswagen Chattanooga with a Green Power Leadership Award for on-site generation

September 24, 2013

The 9.5 MW solar park at Chattanooga is owned and operated by Silicon Ranch; VW has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement. Click to enlarge.

Volkswagen Chattanooga has received a 2013 Green Power Leadership Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—the only automaker to be so recognized. The annual awards recognize the country’s leading green power users for their commitment and contribution to helping advance the development of the nation’s voluntary green power market.

Volkswagen Chattanooga was one of only four organizations nationwide to receive a Leadership Award in the category of on-site generation of green power. (The others were Apple; the County of Santa Clara, CA; and Kaiser Permanete.) The award recognizes EPA Green Power Partners who distinguish themselves using on-site renewable energy applications, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) or landfill gas. Volkswagen Chattanooga is currently generating more than 13 million kWh of green power annually from its on-site 9.5 MW solar energy system, which is enough green power to meet 12% of the organization’s electricity use. (Earlier post.)

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Berkeley Lab researchers at JCAP develop unique semiconductor/catalyst construct for production of H2 from sunlight

August 30, 2013

Grafting molecular cobalt-containing hydrogen production catalysts to a visible-light-absorbing semiconductor exploits the UV-induced immobilization chemistry of vinylpyridine to p-type (100) gallium phosphide (GaP). Credit: ACS, Krawicz et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers with the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) working at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) have developed a method by which molecular cobalt-containing hydrogen production catalysts can be interfaced with a semiconductor that absorbs visible light.

Coupling the absorption of visible light with the production of hydrogen in one material enables the generation of a fuel simply by illuminating the photocathode, says Gary Moore, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and principal investigator for JCAP. “No external electrochemical forward biasing is required.” Moore is the corresponding author of a paper describing this research in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).

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NREL study suggests cost gap for Western renewables could narrow by 2025

August 26, 2013

A new Energy Department study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) indicates that by 2025 wind and solar power electricity generation could become cost-competitive without federal subsidies, if new renewable energy development occurs in the most productive locations. The cost of generation includes any needed transmission and integration costs.

The benchmark for the study is based on the projected future cost of a new combined-cycle natural gas turbine (CCGT) built in the destination market, with natural gas in 2025 at a nominal price of between $7.50/mmBtu and $8.43/mmBtu. According to the analysis, by 2025 geothermal generation could on average be 12% to 35% higher than CCCGT baseline; solar 1-19% higher; and wind at parity up to 13% higher.

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CU-Boulder team develops more efficient isothermal solar-thermal water splitting technique for H2 production

August 02, 2013

A University of Colorado Boulder team has developed a new solar-thermal water-splitting (STWS) system for the efficient production of hydrogen. A paper on their work is published in the journal Science.

STWS cycles have long been recognized as a desirable means of generating hydrogen gas (H2) from water and sunlight, the team notes. Two-step, metal oxide–based STWS cycles generate H2 by sequential high-temperature reduction of a metal oxide catalyst (releasing oxygen atoms) and cooler conditions in which the catalyst is reoxidized by oxygen from water (freeing up hydrogen molecules for collection as hydrogen gas). The temperature swings between reduction and oxidation steps have hobbled STWS’ overall efficiency, however, because of thermal and time losses that occur during the frequent heating and cooling of the metal oxide. The cycling can also limit catalyst lifetime.

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Nitrogen-doped graphene nanoplatelets offer high catalytic performance in fuel cells and solar cells; possible replacement for Pt

July 23, 2013

Researchers in South Korea have developed a simple, low-cost and eco-friendly method of creating nitrogen-doped graphene nanoplatelets (NGnPs) with excellent catalytic performance in both dye-sensitized solar cells and fuel cells to replace conventional platinum (Pt)-based catalysts for energy conversion.

A paper on the work, carried out at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), is published in Scientific Reports. The UNIST team had previously reported that dry ball-milling can efficiently produce chemically modified graphene particles in large quantities. This new work dry ball mills graphite with nitrogen gas (N2), resulting in the direct fixation of N2 at the edges of graphene nanoplatelets (GnPs).

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New $30M ARPA-E program to develop new solar conversion and storage technologies; targeting higher solar penetration in mix

July 17, 2013

Schematic comparing the cost and dispatchability of PV to CSP with thermal storage. The “PV+Storage” box includes the high cost of electrical storage for PV. The FOCUS Program target zone for electricity generation is indicated. Source: ARPA-E. Click to enlarge.

ARPA-E is making $30 million available to fund a new program entitled “Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS),” which is aimed at advancing new technologies beyond current photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies to exploit the full solar spectrum and reduce the cost of solar energy when the sun is not shining.

The primary goal of this funding opportunity (DE-FOA-0000949) is to provide disruptive new solar conversion and storage technology options to enable a much higher penetration of solar energy generation into the US energy mix.

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EPFL/Technion team develops “champion” nanostructures for efficient solar water-splitting to produce hydrogen

July 15, 2013

Hydrogen bubbles as they appear in a photoelectrochemical cell. © LPI / EPFL. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from EPFL in Switzerland and Technion-Israel Institue of Technology have developed nanoparticle-based α-Fe2O3 (hematite) electrodes that achieve the highest photocurrent of any metal oxide photoanode for photoelectrochemical water-splitting under 100 mW cm−2 air mass, 1.5 global sunlight. A paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Materials.

With current methods, in which a conventional photovoltaic cell is coupled to an electrolyzer to produce hydrogen, the cost to produce hydrogen from water using the sun is around €15 per kilo at its cheapest, said research leader Dr. Michael Grätzel, Director of the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces (LPI) at EPFL and inventor of dye-sensitized photoelectrochemical cells. “We’re aiming at a €5 charge per kilo,” he said.

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