Tag Archives: renewable energy

Algae Biodiesel – The Story Behind the Scum

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.

Algae Biodiesel as an alternative fuel

Algae could be powering our diesel engines in the near future.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Algae as a fuel source was first explored in 1978 under President Jimmy Carter.

    Biodiesel created from soybean is one of the more popular biofuels today

  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

    Doesn’t look the best but gets the job done

  8. 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:

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Filed under Alternative Fuel, Biodiesel, Environment, Green Technology, Renewable Energy

The Rise and Fall (and possible resurrection) of Thin-Film Solar Technology

Solar powered calculator

A tiny strip of thin film powers this calculator.

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.

This decline in thin-film solar panel sales is due in part to the dramatic price drops in crystalline PV technology (the main alternative to thin film) the past few years. The price advantage thin-film panels held over crystalline technology is no longer relevant and the fact the crystalline PV panels are generally more efficient have given them the recent edge over thin-film technology.

First Solar – Headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. They posted their second-ever loss in Q1 2012 and they also recently closed down their Germany factory and fired 30% of their workforce. First Solar anticipates producing 1500 to 1800 megawatts this year. (Green Tech Media)

Nanosolar – Headquartered in San Jose, California. This company has an ink-based solar technology that won the Innovation of the Year Award from Popular Science in 2007. They have recently secured funding to pursue the development of large scale solar systems that will cost no more per watt than conventional electricity and they have passed critical milestones to meet that goal by 2015 – a promising report. (Clean Technica)
 

Solar manufacturers had a tough time staying afloat in 2011. Chinese solar companies were accused of dumping solar panels in the U.S. at lower prices than the cost of manufacturing and in turn forced many manufacturers to file for bankruptcy or close down plants/cut their workforce. The most newsworthy of this bunch was Solyndra but other manufacturers closed down as well, including Evergreen Solar, Energy Conversion Devices, and SpectraWatt.

This does not bode well, especially for thin-film manufacturers, who are struggling to keep up with price drops and efficiency increases. However, all is not lost. According to GTM Research:

” Venture capital investment into thin film in Q4 2011 and Q1 2012 combined to reach nearly $300 million. Solar Frontier continues to ramp up its GW-scale CIGS facility. Tokyo Electron bought Oerlikon Solar for $275 million, affirming long-term faith in the thin-film silicon manufacturing space. With CdTe, GE continues to invest heavily in Primestar, and First Solar still intends to open new capacity in Vietnam and Mesa, Arizona.”

It seems that if a handful of thin-film manufacturers can weather the current storm then they can hopefully restore some life to the industry by continuing to create innovation solar panels that push the limits of size, weight, cost, and efficiency.

Additional Resources:

Forbes “First Solar Struggles Amid Decline of Thin-Film Solar Market”
GreenTech Solar “Nanosolar Scores $20M to Keep Its CIGS PV Dream Alive”
GTM Research ” Thin Film 2012-2016: Technologies, Markets and Strategies for Survival”
How Stuff Works “Production of Thin-Film Solar Cells”
NREL “Thin Film CIGS and CdTe Photovoltaic Technologies”
Wikipedia  “Thin Film Solar Cell”
Uni-Solar Thin Film residential installation

5.6 KW Uni-Solar system in Heillbronn, Germany (Photo Courtesy of Rheinzink GmbH & Co.)

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Filed under Alternative Fuel, Environment, Manufacturing, Renewable Energy, Solar

Fascinating Solar Installs – August Edition

Our Top 5 Solar Installations:

(Disclaimer – Not all of these installs are recent but they’re new discoveries for us)

  1. 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

    In 2008 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. completed construction on one of the largest private solar arrays in the United States. Courtesy of Sierra Nevada

  2. 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 world’s largest solar bridge Is halfway complete. 900MWh per year!

  3. 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)

    The N.Y. Jets go green with this massive solar installation at their practice facility.

  4. 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)

    This ambitious project would produce electricity with solar panels during the day and water turbines at night.

  5. And finally, what’s not to love about this solar install? (Source: Dwell)

    Students from Appalachian State designed this solar array to double as an outdoor living area. They entered this solar array in the U.S. Department of Energy 2011 Solar Decathlon.

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Filed under brewery, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Renewable Energy, Solar

Bamboo and the PV Solar Shutter

What happens when you combine bamboo hardwood flooring with PV solar panels?

The PV Solar Shutter of course!

PNS Energy was able to create these great looking window shutters that also generate power by combining the strength of bamboo and its aesthetic and renewable qualities with the power generation capabilities of PV solar cells.

Bamboo Wood by Cali Bamboo was selected for the construction of the solar shutter in an effort to make the product as sustainable and earth friendly as possible. Bamboo is extremely strong and is often compared to the likes of steel, concrete, and graphite. This woody grass also regenerates at an alarming pace; a pole of bamboo can regenerate to full mass in just 6 years while conventional wood takes between 30-60 years to grow back to their full mass. This fact alone made the selection of bamboo for the PV Solar Shutter a no-brainer.

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Filed under Bamboo, Carbon Footprint, Environment, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, San Diego, Solar

In Case You Missed It: Vol. 9

We have taken a few weeks off so for this edition of ICYMI we are bringing you important news from what has been taking up all of our time.
Anywhere Solar Technologies is bringing you the most versatile and innovative solar modules to hit the market. The official release party took place last week at the International Builders Show in Orlando, FL on February 8th.

SS-3205 – It’s Time To Get Smart About Solar

The SS-3205 is the perfect combination of performance, style and innovation. It’s compact size, coupled with the ability to be arranged virtually anywhere the sun shines will create a whole new view on the collection of solar energy. No longer are we tied to expensive, distracting roof-top arrays. Today, believe that solar power where you want it is the future and the SS-3205 is the perfect vehicle to move the world beyond conventional solar power!

With Anywhere Solar’s highest powered solar module there are truly no limits to where you can produce free clean energy!

Check out this unique installation we just completed. By attaching SS-3205’s around the entire roof railing we have been producing on average 723 watt hours per day for the past week.

Before

Simple attachment to the roof

After the Install - Can you spot the solar?

Contact bennet@anywheresolartech.com for more information about Anywhere Solar Technologies and the SS-3205.

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Filed under Energy Efficiency, Environment, Green Building, Green Technology, Renewable Energy, Solar, Uncategorized

Think Big, Think Solar

Our office has recently discovered the brilliance of StumbleUpon. We realized that we can not only use it to discover some great news and information on the very things PNS Energy is interested in, but we can also use it to waste some time when the brain can handle no more.
Among the first things we “stumbled” upon were some very interesting stories about the future of the solar industry. One thing that kept popping up was the idea that solar can (and hopefully will) power the entire earth. In the rest of this post I will lay out some of the more exciting ideas floating around the web.
Click for larger image.
This awesome map shows the surface area required to power the entire Earth (that’s right, the whole world) in 2030. We pulled this map from Treehugger but they ultimately attributed this graphic to the Land Art Generator Initiative. When I first think of the numer of solar panels needed to power the entire Earth I think of an unattainable amount of panels, but when it is displayed visually on a map of the Earth, the actual surface area needed is relatively small.
Ultimately, we would need 496,805 square kilometers covered in solar panels, which is roughly equal to the area of Spain. This is quite large but this puts it into a more manageable perspective; “the Saharan Desert is 9,064,958 square kilometers, or 18 times the total required are to fuel the world.” (Land Art Generator Initiative)
One of the more alarming quotes from the map/article: “According to the United Nations 170,000 square kilometers of forest is destroyed each year. If we constructed solar farms at the same rate, we would be finished in 3 years.”
Going along with installing solar panels in the desert, The Guardian is reporting that an initiative called “Desertec” is breaking ground on a massive plan to install a network of solar farms, wind farms, and concentrated solar plants that will produce 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050. Concentrated solar plants are different from solar farms in that they use large mirrors to reflect the heat from the sun to heat up large greenhouse that pushes hot air through turbines that produce electricity, here is an example of one being built in Arizona. This initiative is the result of a German physicist that wanted to estimate how much electricity was needed to meet the Earth’s demands. He quickly found out that “in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humans consume in a year. If even a tiny fraction of this energy could be harnessed – an area of Saharan desert the size of Wales could, in theory, power the whole of Europe (The Guardian).”
  • Map showing how the Desertec plan would work.

Solar tower similar to the ones being considered for the Desertec program.

The last ‘out of this world’ example of solar energy production is just that. One day, scientists hope that solar arrays will be deployed into space. They will then collect unfiltered sunlight and beam the energy produced down to Earth. A solar satellite in space can be exposed to the sunlight 24 hours a day and can also transmit that energy to whichever area on Earth that has the highest demand at that time. This would ensure that whoever and whatever needed energy would have access to it immediately. Think of the impact this would have on groups like our military. Instant energy could be beamed to remote locations all over the world, allowing troops to set up small, mobile forward operating bases and still have access to all the energy they need. This idea appears to be in the very early stage of development but down the line, anything is possible.
All in all I hope to someday reap the benefits of these solar dreams and if scientific news is any predictor of the future, there is a good chance that I will see some sort of these plans put into actual use.

Picture the future of solar

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Filed under Energy Efficiency, Environment, Innovation, Renewable Energy, Uncategorized

Beautifully Built BIPV (Building Integrated Photo Voltaics)

Here is an example of a solar installation that proves solar does not necessarily need to be installed on the roof. This customer determined that the roof was facing the incorrect direction for solar to work so they designed a practical solar walkway that provides protection in the winter and shading in the summer. It also serves as a design feature for the backyard. This “dramatic” solar installation in Saratoga Springs produces up to 17 kW of electricity.

Moving from that unique solar installation to a different type of solar installation, this great blog summarizes types of Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV). Examples include solar glass walls, solar shingles that look almost identical to your existing shingles and the very cool solar ink that, one day, we will be able to print on nearly any surface in order to collect energy.

In support of that I just recently read an interesting article (found here) that states “the installed capacity for building integrated photovoltaics technology will surpass 1 gigawatt by 2016.” This shows that BIPV will be a new trend in new construction and new remodels. This is going to be driven by the push for newly built and renovated buildings to adhere to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and net-zero standards; both of which require on-site energy production.

Solar is not just for the roof anymore; expect to see it installed on windows, siding, fences, decks, walls, and more in the near future…

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Filed under Green Technology, NAHB, Solar, Sustainable Design