On a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio I accidentally stumbled upon this excellent art exhibit that presents plastic ocean debris in a visually striking way. The artist is an advocate for plastic pollution awareness and creates artwork using plastic ocean debris, excess packaging, and junk mail. Scroll down for some highlights of Sacrifice + Bliss, the traveling exhibit by Aurora Robson, on display at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
For more information and examples of her great work, visit aurorarobson.com
It was recently brought to my attention that the electricity used to run and host our two websites (anywheresolartech.com and pnsenergy.com) is offset 200% by wind energy! That means that Fat Cow, our website host, compensates for twice the electricity it takes to run their business and our websites.
They don’t personally produce that much power with wind mills outside their office but for any electricity they use, they purchase RECs (Renewable Energy Credits) as a “Green Power Partner” of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. By doing so, they prevent the release of 999 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.
Fat Cow is committed to supporting clean energy and they also stress responsible environmental behavior in and out of the office and we are proud to be associated with this forward thinking company.
While routinely searching the web for interesting energy stories I came across a headline stating that an investment shift will lead to the algae biofuel market increasing 43.1% annually over the short term. This is great news, I think…wait, I actually have no idea what impact the algae biodiesel market has on our search for alternative fuels. With that said, it is about time to learn a little bit about biofuels and biodiesel as an alternative to petroleum fuels. Considering that algae garnered my initial interest I focused on the fuel that can be created from this seemingly unimportant pond scum.
According to HowStuffWorks.com, “biodiesel is an alternative or additive to standard diesel fuel that is made from biological ingredients instead of petroleum (or crude oil).” In the case of algae, the oil is extracted from the plant through a process called transesterification. “In this process, the fat or oil is first purified and then reacted with an alcohol, usually methanol (CH3OH) or ethanol (CH3CH2OH) in the presence of a catalyst such as potassium hydroxide (KOH) or sodium hydroxide (NaOH). When this happens, the triacylglycerol is transformed to form esters and glycerol. The esters that remain are what we then call biodiesel.”
Ok, enough technical talk for today. Here is a list of the most interesting things I discovered about biodiesel.
- History – Rudolf Diesel envisioned vegetable oil as a fuel source for his engine in the early 1900′s. He actually demonstrated his peanut oil powered engine at the World Exhibition in Paris, France. Henry Ford also expected his Model T to run off ethanol, a corn oil.
- Algae as a fuel source was first explored in 1978 under President Jimmy Carter.
- Biodiesel can be created from a variety of natural sources, including soybeans, flax, mustard, rapeseed, sunflower, palm, hemp, jatropha, pennycress, algae, animal fats, and waste vegetable oil.
- One acre of algae can produce 100,000 gallons of oil per year – HowStuffWorks.com states that “a 100-acre algae biodiesel plant could potentially produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel in a single year. Experts estimate it will take 140 billion gallons of biodiesel per year to completely replace petroleum-based products. To reach this goal, algae biodiesel companies would need about 95 million acres of land to build biodiesel plants.” In comparison , with other biodiesel (corn or soy) we would need billions of acres to replace petroleum.
- Creating biofuel from algae also reduces carbon dioxide pollution. Algae consumes carbon dioxide during the biodiesel production process leading to algae biodiesel manufacturers building their plants near energy manufacturing plants that release a lot of carbon dioxide.
- Alternative Biodiesel – Can coffee grounds be processed as a biofuel? According to researchers at the University of Nevada-Reno, coffee grounds can contain up to 20% oil. After some processing, the oil from these grounds meet the standards set by the ASTM International(American Society for Testing and Materials) for biodiesel. They estimated that if all the waste grounds generated by the world’s coffee drinkers were gather and reprocessed, the yield would amount to 2.9 million gallons of diesel fuel each year.
- In addition to biodiesel, algae can be used to produce hydrogen and biomass, two other fuel sources. It can also be used as nutrient rich food source, a fertilizer, a stabilizing agent, and a pollution control substance.
- U.S biodiesel production is growing rapidly – From 28 million gallons in 2004 to 245 billion gallons in 2006. The study that grabbed my interest came from SBI that expects algae biofuels to see market growth of 43.1% annually.
For more information on algae biodiesel I would recommend visiting the How Stuff Works comprehensive guide on all things biodiesel – How Algae Biodiesel Works.
Also, check out this nice video from the U.S. Department of Energy:
Thin-film solar technology has been around for quite some time and most of us have benefited from it’s use. Thin-film is most commonly used to power small hand-held calculators and watches and is created by depositing a number of thin layers of photovoltaic material onto a solar wafer. More recently, thin-film PV has become available in larger module form and is being used for building integrated installations (like this) and vehicle charging systems. Thin-film PV has grown in popularity due to its sleek look and light weight, which reduces the cost of installation and allows solar installations in areas not traditionally suited for large solar panels.
- From 2004 to 2009 shipments of thin-film PV grew from 68 MW to 2 GW.
- The market share for thin-film decreased to 11% in 2011. Down from 18% in 2009.
- Thin-film solar panel sales reached $4.53 billion in 2010 but are expected to drop to $2.9 billion in 2012.
Concentrated Solar Power, or CSP, is the process of generating electricity by using the heat from sunlight to push a steam turbine that is connected to an electric generator. There are different ways to go about this but one of the most eye catching methods is the “power tower.” A tall tower is constructed in the middle of a field of mirrors, or more specifically, a field of heliostats. Heliostats are mirrors that track the path of the sun and reflect the light towards the power tower (which then turns that light/heat into electricity using steam turbines).
To learn more about how CSP works, watch this great video from Top Gear as they visit one the world’s first solar power tower.
In more recent news, the soon-to-be largest CSP plant has reached the halfway point of construction. The 370 Mega-Watt Ivanpah Concentrating Solar Power Plant is located in the Mojave Desert in California. Once completed, it will generate enough electricity to power more than 140,000 California homes and businesses.
Look for more CSP plants popping up in the near future. It is one of the more promising methods of producing sustainable electricity considering there is plenty of ideal space for these plants in generally inhospitable , sunny, desert environments.
Our Top 5 Solar Installations:
(Disclaimer – Not all of these installs are recent but they’re new discoveries for us)
- One of the largest privately owned solar systems belongs to one of my favorite private companies – The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Sierra Nevada produces around 40% of their own energy with this solar installation. All in all, their solar systems include over 10,000 individual panels! Source: Government Technology
- The work has started on the world’s largest photovoltaic array (it will also claim the title of world’s largest solar bridge). The Blackfriars Bridge, in the heart of London, will be the home of 4,400 solar panels with the ability to create 900 MWh of electricity per year. (Source: Clean Technica)
- The New York Jets adopt solar with a massive solar array atop their practice facility. 3000 panels from Yingli Solar have been installed and will provide 750,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. (Source: CNet)
- A solar waterfall could be powering the next Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Ok, this project is still in the design phase but if completed it would be an amazing structure. (Source: RAFAA Architecture and Design)
- And finally, what’s not to love about this solar install? (Source: Dwell)