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New Energy Storage Innovations

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By Craig Evans, Renewable Energy Consulting Services, www.renewable-energy.consulting

Three new types of batteries could change the renewable energy world. These include:

  • Aquion’s low-cost sodium-ion battery, for which Aquion recently raised $55 million of venture capital funding from investors including Bill Gates and has just finished installing its first commercial-scale production line in a former Sony TV factory near Pittsburgh.
  • The inexpensive, high capacity “Organic Battery” recently developed at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and
  • Sugar batteries being developed by Virginia Tech, the Tokyo University of Science and CFD Research Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama.

Energy storage also is poised to get a big push:

  • The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is actively working to promote grid energy storage; and
  • Two bills promoting energy storage are pending in Congress, H.R. 1465 and S. 1030 which offer tax credits for three categories of energy storage facilities.

energy-storage-a123

The need for energy storage in the electric grid is increasing as a result of the growing use of renewable power generation, which varies with wind and solar conditions.  The proliferation of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids also contributes to the growing interest in grid storage, and the need for cheaper, more efficient, more environmentally friendly batteries.

DOE released a report to Congress in December that identifies the benefits of grid energy storage, the challenges that must be addressed to enable broader use, and the efforts of DOE, in conjunction with industry and other government organizations, to meet those challenges.

The challenges are: (1) a limited portfolio of cost competitive energy storage technologies; (2) the lack of processes for evaluating and reporting the performance of existing storage systems on a unified basis; (3) inequities in the regulatory environment, which tend to mute the case for investment in energy storage; and (4) the lack of industry acceptance due to uncertainty about how storage technologies will perform over time.

The new batteries have the potential to not only meet the grid’s energy storage challenge, but to provide business, industry, homeowners and consumers with affordable energy storage options.

Here’s a brief overview of the new battery technologies:

aquion_module

Aquion’s sodium-ion battery: This battery will compete in price with a lead-acid battery—one of the cheapest types of battery available—yet will last more than twice as long.  While lead is toxic and the sulfuric-acid electrolyte in lead-acid batteries is potentially dangerous, Aquion’s battery is made of inexpensive materials including manganese oxide and water, which the inventor, Carnegie Mellon professor of materials science and engineering Jay Whittaker, says are safe enough to eat—adding however that they taste terrible.

The battery operates much like a lithium-ion battery, in which lithium ions shuttle between electrodes to create electrical current. But the new battery uses sodium ions instead of lithium ones, which makes it possible to use a salt water electrolyte instead of the more expensive—and flammable—electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries. 

The trade-off is that the batteries store less energy by weight and volume than lithium-ion batteries do, so they’re not practical for cars or portable electronics. But space isn’t an issue for stationary applications, where batteries can be stacked in warehouses or shipping containers.

By providing an affordable way to store solar power for use at night or during cloudy weather, the technology will provide a workable a solution to grid energy storage.  It also will allow isolated populations to get electricity from renewable energy.

Harvardorganicflowbattery

Harvard’s Organic Flow Battery:  Harvard University researchers also have developed a new type of battery that could make it economical to store as much as two or three days of electricity from wind, solar and other intermittent sources of power. The battery is based on an organic molecule—called a quinone—that’s found in plants such as rhubarb and can be cheaply synthesized from crude oil. The molecules could significantly reduce the cost of energy storage materials in a type of battery called a flow battery, which is particularly well suited to storing large amounts of energy.

Flow batteries store energy in liquid form in large tanks. Such batteries have been in use for decades to help manage the power grid.  But they’re expensive, about $700 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of storage capacity.  Harvard’s organic flow battery is projected to cost only $27 per kWh, well below the $100 per kWh threshold at which DOE says it becomes economical to store hours of energy from wind and solar farms.

For a homeowner, a day’s worth of energy generated from wind or solar panels could be stored in a flow battery the size of a typical propane or heating oil tank.

The Harvard work is the first time that researchers have demonstrated high-performance flow batteries that use organic molecules instead of metal ions. The technology now faces grueling tests to assess its degradation rate over thousands of cycles (to address DOE’s challenge #4), with early tests indicating no signs of degradation.

CDFRC sugar battery

Sugar batteries:  Virginia Tech’s Prof. Y.H. Percival Zhang is leading research into batteries that run on sugar, which will make them both refillable and biodegradable.  The sugar batteries will have a higher energy density and cost less than rechargeable lithium batteries, which lose their ability to hold a charge after a while, and are considered toxic waste once discarded.  Researchers at the Tokyo University of Science also are working on sugar batteries.

Zhang envisions users refilling the batteries with sugar when they need refueling, “much like filling a printer cartridge with ink.” He hopes they may be powering electronic devices in as little as three years.

The CFD Research Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama, has developed and patented a novel Bio-Battery that can convert a single packet of sugar into the enery equivalent to that found in a six-pack of AA batteries.  CFDRC was awarded a $750,000 contract in September 2013 from the U.S. Air Force to further advance the Bio-Battery by extending the platform to more fuel choices and developing a novel paper-based passive fuel pumping system.  The batteries can be recharged using a sugar solution or even a can of soda.

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Vapor Drive: “The Little Engine That Could” … revolutionize power equipment

By Craig Evans, Renewable Energy Consulting Services, www.renewable-energy.consulting

AGP Energy logoVaporDrive Technology

VaporDrive:  “Putting the Power Back into Power Equipment”

VaporDrive1

TODAY’S SMALL COMBUSTION ENGINE is at best only 60% efficient in converting energy from fuel consumed into work completed. 

The innovative VaporDrive engine is 95% in overall efficiency.  It has only 13 moving parts (see illustration below).  It is powered by a 42-volt battery system, which is largely recharged during operation of the engine; as a result, the engine burns no fossil fuels, consumes no oxygen, and is nonpolluting.

The VaporDrive is a new, easily-scalable, highly improved steam vapor engine based on traditional steam engine technology with modern enhancements in recirculating design, using highly dependable, durable and cost efficient advances in metallurgy, physics, geometry, chemistry and electronics.  The engine is closed loop, self-storing and recycling, and uses injected vapor as a fuel source for the work to be performed.

VaporDrive Fly Apart

The VaporDrive engine can be dropped in to existing products with few or no design modifications.  Its initial target market, therefore, is as an engine replacement for portable gasoline- and diesel-powered generators, water and sewage pumps and other workhorse engines that require long-running durability.  Because of its plug-and-play design, it offers Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) the opportunity to make change incrementally, trying out the engine component in one or two product lines, then as consumer acceptance and demand increases, expanding to other lines.

VaporDrive has the additional benefit of offering more power and significant cost savings, since the VaporDrive can provide twice as much power as a gasoline engine and 60% more power than a diesel engine on a cubic inch displacement and weight basis, and can run as much as four times longer than standard gasoline- or diesel-powered engines without topping off its fuel supply.

Future expansion will include lawn and garden equipment, aircraft main power units, air compressors, heavy-duty self-propelled equipment, servo motors, recharging stations and specialty pumps.

Refined by a metallurgist who designed and produced high-performance parts for NASA shuttle boosters and the Long Duration Effects Facility (the LDEF Space Lab), VaporDrive has been proven in component and bench scale tests.

VaporDrive’s licensed owner, AGP Energy, is seeking  $1.7 million to build a working prototype to begin marketing the engine to OEMs.

For more information on the VaporDrive engine, please contact me at www.energy-inspirations/contact-us. 

VaporDrive2

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The Amazing Edison2 Very Light Car

Website Car Comparison

The Edison2 Very Light Car (VLC) — the original design (left) that won the X Prize and the next generation VLC (right)

By Craig Evans, Renewable Energy Consulting Services, www.energy-inspirations.com, using excerpts from the Edison2 website:

Edison2 at heart and in spirit is a racing team. Racing as in Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona. The team is made up of designers, engineers, mechanics, builders and drivers of very fast, championship-caliber cars, who engaged in a race – the X Prize – to build a highly efficient, safe, and well-performing automobile.  They succeeded.

One hundred and eleven teams from around the world entered the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize in 2008, and in September 2010 Edison2 was awarded the top prize, winning the Mainstream class and with it $5 million.

The X Prize combined a simple goal with demanding requirements. The goal: a car with mileage greater than 100 MPGe. The requirements: 4 passengers, 4 wheels, range exceeding 200 miles, 0-60 in less than 15 seconds, meeting Consumers Union dynamic safety standards and Tier 2 Bin 8 emissions.

In the rigorous Mainstream class only two cars could even make the finals: Edison2’s #97 and #98 Very Light Cars.

The Very Light Car (VLC) is a reflection the Edison2 team’s background.  The team understands how to make a car light and aerodynamic since these are two ingredients of any successful race car. They know how to make a light car strong and safe, evidenced by race drivers walking away from very high-speed collisions. They also realize the value of simplicity of design and clarity of function.

Edison2 combines sound physics with innovative design to produce workable and sustainable transportation solutions through the absolute virtues of low weight and low aerodynamic drag.  The VLC – a low-mass vehicle using mostly recyclable aluminum and steel – also requires little energy in production and avoids scarce and hazardous materials.

For the X Prize, the team anticipated developing a hybrid or electric vehicle – hence the name, Edison2 – but their studies on efficiency led them away from the significant added weight of batteries to a one-cylinder, 250cc internal combustion engine fueled by E85.

Weighing just 830 pounds with a drag coefficient of 0.160 – lowest ever recorded at the GM Aero Lab for a 4 passenger car – the X Prize VLC achieved 110 MPGe (combined) and 129 MPGe (highway) at the X Prize.  It also posted a peak lateral acceleration of 1.18g on a skid pad, the fastest speed through the double lane change, and shortest stopping distance (128 feet) from 60 – 0 (Consumers Union).

In 2011 Edison2 decided to build an electric VLC, using off the shelf batteries, motor and controller, which was tested at Roush Laboratories in Michigan.  The all-electric VLC was rated at 350 MPGe in the EPA combined cycle – a new EPA fuel economy record, according to Consumer Reports.  This makes the Edison2 the most efficient 4-person electric car on the planet; it also may well be the technology that enables widespread adoption of EVs. 

Through light weight and low aerodynamic drag the VLC requires very little energy to move – only 5.3 hp to cruise at 60 mph – which means a small battery pack (10.5 kWh, compared with the Nissan Leaf’s 24 kWh) and a short recharging time. In fact, the eVLC can completely recharge in less than 7 hours from any ordinary 110V outlet, and has a 100+ mile range.

VLCs are incredibly efficient regardless of how they are powered.  The X Prize was won with a 250 cc internal combustion engine running on E85.  Edison2s electric VLC set a new standard for 4-person electric cars on the EPA 5-cycle test (combined), and a VLC with a Smart Car drivetrain recorded 89 MPG (highway), compared to 41 in the Smart.

Edison2 incorporates many safety innovations from racing into the Very Light Car. A strong steel cage encompasses the passenger compartment. Unlike the rectangular shape of contemporary cars, the diamond shape of the VLC deflects forces on impact, which means that the most common collisions become indirect. Also, additional collapsible space for impact absorption is designed into the VLC, by having the wheels outside of the frame, for example.

Since winning the X Prize, the Edison2 team has been working in their Lynchburg, Virginia facility on a stunning new version of the VLC. Although the next generation VLC uses the same architecture and virtues of efficiency that won Edison2 the X Prize, it is a completely new vehicle. It is designed to be capable of meeting regulatory requirements (beyond 2025 CO2 and MPG regulations), and will have production-car fit-and-finish, safety, comfort and handling at an affordable price.

For additional information on Edison2, please contact me at www.energy-inspirations/contact-us

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American International BioSugars (AIB): Creating Sugar from Biomass

An artist’s rendering of AIB’s Standard Plant and its three-step process (from left to right): Step 1: maceration and pre-digestion Step 2: multiple reactors using proprietary enzymes Step 3: Separation of glucose from slurry

By Craig Evans, Renewable Energy Consulting Services, www.energy-inspirations.com

American International BioSugars, headquartered in West Palm Beach, Florida, has developed a cost-effective process for converting biomass and cellulosic wastes into a sugar solution.  The sugar produced by AIB’s scalable plug-and-play design is made up primarily of glucose, as well as other high-value sugars, such as xylose.

These sugars, in turn, can be used to produce biofuels such as ethanol.  They also can be used to make detergents, pharmaceuticals and bioplastics that provide environmentally-friendly replacements for a variety of petroleum-based products, such as PET bottles and interior car panels.

As Biofuels Digest editor and publisher Jim Lane wrote on January 15, 2014 in talking about Hot Sugars – Making Industrial Sugars into a Commercial Reality, “Affordable sugars are the lifeblood of an enormous range of companies. Some want to move away from food-based sugars because of cost, some want to avoid the volatility of commodity prices, some have customer demand for sugars made from non-food sources — in some cases, all three.”

The AIB technology features low production costs and high efficiencies.  It is a low-temperature enzymatic process that produces few impurities or inhibitors, regardless of the feedstock source.  It can utilize waste streams that can be obtained at no cost, save for transportation, or by accepting the wastes for a tipping fee (which then generates a negative feedstock cost).  It even can turn a liability into an asset by utilizing process wastes that have no economic value or that require expenditures for their disposal.

Among the variety of biomass feedstocks that AIB plants can use are crop wastes (such as wheat and barley straw and corn stover and corn cobs); leaves, grasses, yard and landscape wastes; energy crops (such as miscanthus and switchgrass); food wastes from food processors, restaurants and households; and paper, cardboard, newsprint and pulp paper wastes.

An AIB plant can be used as a bolt-on to an existing corn-to-ethanol or barley-to-ethanol plant to expand capacity.  It also can provide valuable feedstock flexibility and price stability and, thus, improve profitability.  Used in this way, the AIB technology can produce ethanol for less than the cost of $5 per bushel corn (taking into account the revenues from sales of the high-protein animal feed, distillers dry grains, or DDGs, that a refiner will receive as a byproduct from corn, but not not from the AIB-processed biomass).

For more information on the AIB technology, please email me at: www.energy-inspirations.com/contact-us

Photo Caption:    Top photo, from top to bottom: Step 1: maceration and pre-digestion Step 2: multiple reactors using proprietary enzymes Step 3: Separation of glucose from slurry

Artist’s rendering of AIB’s three-step process (from top to bottom):
Step 1: maceration and pre-digestion
Step 2: multiple reactors using proprietary enzymes
Step 3: Separation of glucose from slurry

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