As we enter 2015, we celebrate progress in clean energy technologies achieved in 2014, highlighting just a few advances.
An emissions-free, natural gas power generation plant has reached the demonstration stage. A 50MWt (megawatt; one megawatt-hour is 1 million Watt hours) plant that will be built in Texas in 2016 will validate the world’s first natural gas power generation system that produces no air emissions and includes full CO2 capture without requiring expensive, efficiency-reducing carbon capture equipment. Exhaust exits the turbine and goes into a heat exchanger, which then recycles the hot stream of carbon dioxide throughout the system, skipping the condensing process and keeping the system at a higher pressure and temperature to retain efficiency. The developer is NET Power of Durham, NC. Sources netpower.com and heraldsun.com
A power plant that gets its energy from wind and solar is approved for construction in San Luis, Arizona. Solar Wind Energy Tower Inc. plans to develop a $1.5 billion project that would use ambient desert heat to create a draft to generate electricity, in a concrete tower that would be the tallest structure in North America. The 2,250-feet project, which resembles a nuclear plant’s cooling tower, would be capable of generating at an average rate of about 435 megawatt-hours over the course of a year.
In the dry desert air, water would be injected in a mist near the top of tower, causing the air to cool and gain density. The draft created by the sinking air would exceed 50 miles per hour as it’s forced through a ring of turbines at the tower’s base. The descending air would be used to drive a turbine that would generate electricity. In July and August, the Southwest’s hottest and driest months, the plant could produce more than 1,200 megawatt-hours. Source renewableenergyworld.com
Large-scale wave energy may help wind and solar provide base load capacity. New analysis suggests that large-scale wave energy systems should be comparatively steady, dependable and able to be integrated into the overall energy grid at lower costs than some other forms of alternative energy, including wind power. The findings, published in the journal Renewable Energy, confirm that wave energy will have fewer problems with variability than some energy sources and that by balancing wave energy production over a larger geographic area, the variability can be even further reduced. Sources sciencedaily.com and journals.elsevier.com
Here’s a building than can make rainwater safe to drink without adding chemicals. Bio-concrete developed by Hungarian design firm IVANKA is being be used for roof tiles that soften falling rain and neutralize its ph. From there, the runoff is directed through a series of stainless steel pipes that remove more contaminants. Then the water is stored in a cistern made of bio-concrete with a silver-containing lining that discourages microbial growth. The result is a water purification system that doesn’t rely on added chemicals and could also help deal with stormwater runoff in urban areas.
The technology can be added to an existing roof or incorporated into new designs and can be customized for any size of building. It is applicable in any location that receives enough rain—about half of the countries in the world. Sources fastcoexist.com and conservationmagazine.org
And here’s a man who can make a glacier—at low cost and requiring little maintenance. Chewang Norphel diverts water coming down the mountain into pipes or channels and brings the water to a shady section of a valley. There he builds a series of check dams out of stones to slow and hold back the water which then freezes at night. Because it is in the shade the water will stay frozen until the weather warms up in March and then it is released into channels built to distribute the water just in time for the growing season. So far Chewang has built twelve of his artificial glaciers in the Trans-Himalaya region of India, helping more than 10,000 people have drinking water and irrigation for crops. The largest is near the village of Phuktsey and is about 1000 feet long and 150 feet wide with an average depth of 4 feet. This glacier can supply enough water for the village of 700 people, and costs about $2,000 US. Sources conservationmagazine.org and hydratelife.org
A new method for making ammonia, a vital constituent of conventional fertilizer, produces the chemical directly from air, steam and sunlight. An alternative to the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch method, it requires no fossil fuels and could enable developing countries to manufacture their own fertilizer instead of importing it. Developed by Stuart Licht of George Washington University and his colleagues, the process creates ammonia by bubbling steam into a cheap molten salt mixed with nanoscale iron particles, and passing an electric current through. Source scidev.net
A special nanowire cloth that traps body heat can help us reduce our reliance on conventional energy sources. Nearly half of global energy consumption goes toward heating buildings and homes, producing up to a third of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Now researchers reporting in the American Chemical Society’s journal Nano Letters have developed lightweight, breathable mesh materials that are flexible enough to coat normal clothing, heating the occupants without having to heat the space they occupy. Because the coatings are made out of conductive materials, they can also be actively warmed with an electricity source to further crank up the heat. Source acs.org
In 2015, Pope Francis plans to issue an encyclical on climate change, give an address to the UN General Assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions in an effort to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris. The papal letter will be addressed to the world’s 5,000 bishops and 400,000 priests, affecting 1.2 billion Catholics. According to Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, an Argentinian who is close to the Pope, the purpose of the rare and important official message and corollary actions will be “to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.” Source theguardian.com
In September 2014 in a widely cited article, two academics called for a “massive mobilization” of public opinion by the Vatican and other religions to take action to protect the environment. In his lecture Bishop Sorondo said the problems for the natural world have been exacerbated by the fact economic activity is only measured according to gross domestic product that “does not take into account the degradation of the earth” nor “the unjust inequalities between countries and within countries.” He told the 175-year-old Catholic journal The Tablet: “The Pope is very aware that the consequences of climate change affect all people, but especially the poor. This is the moral consequence, the moral imperative.” Sources sciencemag.org/ and thetablet.co.uk
Countries in northern Europe are leading in commitment to climate change goals. Denmark intends to end the burning of fossil fuels by 2050, in transportation as well as in electricity production. The Scandinavian country has developed and supported wind technology more than any other country, and as a result gets more than 40 percent renewable power on its electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. Source nytimes.com
Norway will have a binding target for carbon neutrality by 2030 at the latest, with the emissions reduction goal equaling 100 % of its own emissions environment. Its reduction goal by 2020 is 30% of its own 1990 emissions. Virtually all of its electricity comes from hydropower, which is both cheap and clean, a fact that allows the country to give transportation a large role in its emissions reduction plans. Norway gives huge subsidies to people who buy electric cars: they are exempt from the sales taxes which, for conventional autos, are very high; the annual registration fee is waived, as are tolls; drivers have access to less congested traffic lanes; and electric car owners who drive for a living get an income tax deduction.
The subsidies, which amount to $8,200 per car per year, are scheduled to encourage prompt action as they will end when 50,000 cars have been registered. It must be revealed that the treasury that enables this generosity is the nation’s oil-enriched sovereign wealth fund. Sources environment.no/Goals and greencarreports.com
Sweden has over 47 per cent renewable energy now, and by 2020 it aims to reduce GHG emissions by 40 per cent compared with 1990, with at least half of the country’s energy from renewables. The country plans to reach zero emissions of greenhouse gases by the year 2050. Finland has adopted a reductions goal of 80 percent below their 1990 levels by 2050, to become legally binding this year. Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries have accomplished more, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level. Sources sweden.se, thinkprogress.org and nytimes.com
The US is exporting emissions as it switches from coal to shale gas. Natural gas emits half as much CO2 per mwh as coal. Between 2007 and 2012, US electricity generation from coal fell by 25% while the natural gas generation increased by 36%, thus cutting US emissions. Researchers have found that over a five-year period from 2007-12, however, emissions from exported US coal exceeds the savings from fuel switching in the US by more than 60 million tons. But if half of that US coal is exported to the world market and burned elsewhere, all the US emissions reductions are lost on the global scale. Source co2scorecard.org
Global warming is likely playing a bigger role than previously thought in dead zones. A new study found more than a dozen ways climate change worsens the oxygen depletion that occurs when fertilizer runoff clogs waterways with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. When the water gets warmer, marine life’s metabolism increases, making them require more oxygen just as the oxygen levels are already dropping. Other ways that climate change affects dead zones include longer summers, ocean acidification and changing wind and current patterns. The researchers looked at 476 dead zones worldwide—264 in the United States. Source business-standard.com
Fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground to prevent dangerous climate change. A new study is the first to reveal which fuels from which countries would have to be abandoned to keep global temperatures from rising past the 2o Centigrade mark that governments have agreed is the standard. It was already known that there is about three times more fossil fuel in reserves that could be exploited today than is compatible with the 2oC goal and over 10 times more fossil fuel resources that could be exploited in future. The study also shows that technology to capture and bury carbon emissions, touted by some as a way to continue substantial fossil fuel use in power stations, makes surprisingly little difference to the amount of coal, oil and gas deemed unburnable. Source theguardian.com
The authors show that the overwhelming majority of the huge coal reserves in China, Africa, Russia and the United States should remain unused along with over 260 billion barrels of oil reserves in the Middle East, equivalent to all of the oil reserves held by Saudi Arabia. The Middle East should also leave over 60% of its gas reserves in the ground. All of Canada’s tar sands and all of the Arctic’s oil and gas should be left where they lie. Source sciencedaily.com
Original study available for a short time through this link: www.nature.com/articles
Despite cheaper gas, more people are taking public transit. The American Public Transportation Association reports that about 2.7 billion passenger trips were taken on transit systems in the third quarter of 2014—an increase of 1.8 percent, or about 48 million trips, over the year-ago period—the highest third-quarter number since the trade group’s records began in 1974. Source nytimes.com
A new all-time sales record for plug-in vehicles for any one month was set in the US in December 2014, with an estimated 12,874 EV’s being sold. The previous high month was May, with 12,053 being sold. Overall 119,710 plug-in vehicles were sold for the year, good for a 23% increase from 2013 when 97,501 were purchased. Source http://insideevs.com
In the UK also there has been a surge in demand for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV), with sales of plug-in hybrid cars increasing four-fold in 2014. New annual figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders have revealed that sales of alternatively-fueled vehicles (AFVs)—including electric cars and hybrid—rose by 58% last year, with 51,739 new AFVs registered. Source theguardian.com
Even with gas prices low these cars have sold well, but so have gas guzzlers. In the last three months of 2014, sales of light trucks and SUVs rose, according to the National Auto Dealers Association, 10.9 percent nationwide compared to the previous quarter. Low gas prices helped push sales of Ford F-Series trucks to seven-year highs in 2014, according to Kelley Blue Book, which analyzes vehicle pricing. Source billingsgazette.com
What has been hurt by falling gas prices is alternative fuels. Last year palm oil, the widest distributed vegetable oil that is a source of biofuels, was $252 per ton cheaper than gas oil. It is now $121 a ton more expensive. Even with a bumper crop of corn in the US in 2014, ethanol plants are lucky to have even a tiny profit margin. For its survival the sector will have to depend on political support through legally mandated demand. Source ft.com
If you’re wondering whether the full-life cost of electric cars is really that good for the environment, consider a recent study calculated grid-powered electric car emissions in twenty countries. The specs are based on a full-electric vehicle, for example a Nissan Leaf, using the 2009 average fuel mix in each country. In coal heavy India, China, Australia and South Africa, electric cars using grid power for electricity result in emissions like typical gasoline vehicles—in the 25-30 MPGUS range. In the UK, Germany, Japan and Italy, electric cars emit emissions at a rate similar to the best petrol hybrids, in the 45-50 MPGUS range. But in low-carbon supply places like France, Brazil, Switzerland and Norway they, averaging well beyond 100 MPGUS for equivalent emissions, are in a different league.
Electric cars are relatively new at a commercial scale and are dealing with issues of cost, range and charging speed, each of which will be helped by improving batteries. Nevertheless, researchers conclude, “Let’s not pretend that a gasoline vehicle can compete with an electric car in terms of carbon emissions. It’s just not a contest.” Source shrinkthatfootprint.com