Mass balance on biofuels

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Here is a recent summary article on a recent life cycle analysis (LCA) study comparing CO2 emissions associated with biofuels (e.g. corn ethanol) to CO2 emissions from gasoline:

http://phys.org/news/2016-08-biofuels-decrease-heat-trapping-carbon-dioxide.html

The full study was just published in the journal Climatic Change and is titled “Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use”:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-016-1764-4

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New record for Si photovoltaic module efficiency

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SunPower recently announced a 24.1% efficient Si PV module- a world record:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelkanellos/2016/06/27/sunpowers-24-1-efficiency-mark-are-we-near-the-ceiling/#1742e8eb2be1

As noted in the article, this is very impressive, especially considering that the theoretical maximum efficiency for a single junction Si solar cell under 1 sun illumination intensity is ~ 29%.

In situ Measurement of Sub-particle reaction rates of TiO2 nanorod photoanodes

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A nice study was recently published in Nature on the use of super-resolution fluorescence-based imaging and scanning photocurrent microscopy to study sub-particle reaction rates on TiO2 nanorods:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v530/n7588/abs/nature16534.html

very neat measurements!

2016 Q1 Solar Installations in the US (and projections)

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“In the three months ending March 31, there were 1,665 megawatts (MW) of solar power plants[added to the US power grid] — accounting for 64% of total capacity additions — more than coal, natural gas and nuclear combined”

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/solar-installations-overtaking-all-other-conventional-energy-sources-in-the-us-2016-06-10

the article goes on to note that there are currently 26 GW of solar installed in the US. By the end of the year it is expected there will be 40.5 GW, over 3% of the net US generating capacity.

 

Technoeconomic analysis on solar hydrogen production

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A technoeconomic analysis on solar hydrogen production was recently published in Energy. Environ. Sci. by Shaner, et al. (Energy. Environ. Sci., 2016, Advance Article). The levelized cost of hydrogen was compared between photovoltaic-electrolyzers (PV-E), photoelectrochemical cells (PECs), and fossil fuel derived hydrogen using steam methane reforming (SMR).

This paper highlights the strengths of PEC systems and outlines the challenges which must be met in order for the technology to become viable. One way to make solar hydrogen production competitive with SMR is to tax the carbon dioxide that is produced. They estimate that for the current PEC technology to achieve hydrogen price parity with SMR, a carbon tax of $1000/ton C02 is required. If a solar concentrator PEC is used, the estimated tax decreases to $800/ton CO2.

 

2.99 cents/kWh solar power in Dubai

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A winning bid to install solar PV panels at Dubai’s solar power park (which will eventually reach 5 GW capacity by 2030!) came in at 2.99 cents/kWh-  a world record:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-03/solar-developers-undercut-coal-with-another-record-set-in-dubai

This data point is a little unique due to the scale of the project, but continues a trend of ever-decreasing costs of solar-produced electricity that are far below grid prices.  As solar market penetration increases, this represents a huge opportunity for electrochemical technologies to turn this low cost “clean” electricity into fuels and chemicals.

 

Key elements in a sustainable energy future

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This is an interesting article in the Economist from earlier this year discussing the world’s supply and price of Lithium-carbonate salts, the key ingredient for Li-ion batteries such as those going into the new electric vehicles:

http://www.economist.com/news/business/21688386-amid-surge-demand-rechargeable-batteries-companies-are-scrambling-supplies

As discussed in the article, global supplies of Li are limited and Li production is concentrated in a small handful of countries. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla motors, which is aiming to scale up its production of the Tesla Model 3 to 500,000 cars/year by 2020, has noted that “in order to produce a half million cars per year…we would basically need to absorb the entire world’s lithium-ion production.”  (source)

Li-ion batteries are not the only clean energy technology that rely on increasingly scarce elements.  Fuel cells and electrolyzers – key technologies for a potential Hydrogen economy- currently rely heavily on expensive precious metal catalysts such as Platinum and Iridium.  For this reason, the development of new earth-abundant catalytic and electrode materials for these technologies is of critical importance for renewable energy to reach the terawatt energy scales.

For a more comprehensive discussion on the global supplies and production rates of key elements for renewable energy technologies, this is a nice review article from a few years ago:

Addressing the terawatt challenge: scalability in the supply of chemical elements for renewable energy

RSC Adv., 2012,2, 7933-7947

 

 

Solar in the UK

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The recent growth in solar and closure of coal plants in recent years has lead to instances this year where solar PV plants generated more electricity than coal in the united kingdom (UK):s

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/13/solar-power-sets-new-british-record-by-beating-coal-for-a-day

The UK plans to phase out coal by 2025. According to the article, about 14% of the UK generating capacity is now solar.

 

Perspective on fossil fuels

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Here is a recent perspective on (moving away from) fossil fuels in FORTUNE magazine by Prof. Mark Barteau at the University of Michigan:

Why a Production Freeze Won’t Fix the Oil Collapse

As discussed in the article, two common arguments for moving away from fossil fuels have been i.) fossil fuels are quickly running out and ii.) high use of fossil fuels makes us highly dependent on foreign oil reserves.  However, developments over the past 10 years or so, including the tremendous growth of fracking in the US, have made both issues less urgent than they have seemed to be in the past. Furthermore, it’s likely that we will remain in this state for a while.  If society is going to make a meaningful transition away from a fossil fuel based energy system in a in the near future, it needs to be driven by a conscious effort to do so for the sake of the environment and climate.  As noted at the end of the article, it is tempting to continue to reap the short-term profits of cheap and abundant fossil fuels, but there is also a huge opportunity to utilize the financial benefits of cheap oil to help accelerate the transition to a truly sustainable energy system.