Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its flagship publication “World Energy Outlook 2011”.

Today, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its flagship publication “World Energy Outlook 2011”.
See [report]

The 2011 edition of the World Energy Outlook was released on 9 November and brings together the latest data, policy developments, and the experience of another year to provide robust analysis and insight into global energy markets, today and for the next 25 years. This edition of the IEA’s flagship WEO publication gives the latest energy demand and supply projections for different future scenarios, broken down by country, fuel and sector.
It also gives special focus to such topical energy sector issues as Russia’s energy prospects and their implications for global markets; the role of coal in driving economic growth in an emissions-constrained world; how high-carbon infrastructure “lock-in” is making the 2°C climate change goal more challenging and expensive to meet; the scale of fossil fuel subsidies and support for renewable energy and their impact on energy, economic and environmental trends; or the scale and type of investment needed to provide modern energy to the billions of the world’s poor that do not have it.

WEO-2011 further analyses some of the most pressing issues faced by the energy world this year by looking at the implications of a possible delay in oil and gas sector investment in the Middle East and North Africa and also by presenting a “Low Nuclear Case” to investigate what a rapid slowdown in the use of nuclear power would mean for the global energy landscape.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Download the 2011 Global Cleantech 100 report: A Barometer of the Changing Face of Global Cleantech Innovation

* The 100 top innovators in cleantech today

* Trends in the 2011 list

* Analysis by region and sector

* Funding and investor data

* The Lust and Marmite lists: the companies with the most admiration and the ones that divided the panel

* The Global Cleantech 100 of 2010: Where are they now?

Download [here]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Can Venture Capital Really Influence Environmental Sustainability?

A special report by Knowledge@Wharton

Startup companies are developing a wide range of new — and sometimes exotic — sustainable-energy technologies to help countries move away from their dependence on dwindling and greenhouse-gas producing fossil fuels. In this special report from the 2011 Wharton Global Alumni Forum in San Francisco, Knowledge@Wharton surveys the role and limitations of venture capital in contributing to this transformation.

Download the report [here].

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Guiding Light for New Directions in Energy Production: Optofluidics Could Help Solve the Energy Challenge

The science of light and liquids has been intimately entwined since Léon Foucault discovered the speed of light in 1862, when he observed that light travels more slowly in water than in air. This physical harmony between the two materials is now being harnessed to collect and drive light to where it can be the most useful. October's issue of Nature Photonics focuses on optofluidics, the study of microfluidics -- the microscopic delivery of fluids through extremely small channels or tubes -- combined with optics. In a review written by Demetri Psaltis, Dean of EPFL's School of Engineering, he and his co-authors argue that optofluidics is poised to take on one of this century's most important challenges: energy.

"By directing the light and concentrating where it can be most efficiently used, we could greatly increase the efficiency of already existing energy producing systems, such as biofuel reactors and solar cells, as well as innovate entirely new forms of energy production" explains Psaltis. "EPFL is the world leader in optofluidics, our institution is in a position to develop truly efficient and disruptive energy sources."

Sunlight is already used for energy production besides conventional solar panels. For example, it is used to convert water and carbon dioxide into methane in large industrial biofuel plants. Prisms and mirrors are commonly employed to direct and concentrate sunlight to heat water on the roofs of homes and apartment buildings. These techniques already employ the same principles found in optofluidics -- control and manipulation of light and liquid transfer -- but often without the precision offered by nano and micro technology.

A futuristic example: Optofluidic solar lighting system

How can we better exploit the light that hits the outside of a building? Imagine sunlight channelled into the building An optofluidic solar lighting system could capture sunlight from a roof using a light concentrating system that follows the sun's path by changing the angle of the water's refraction, and then distribute the sunlight throughout the building through light pipes or fibre optic cables to the ceilings of office spaces, indoor solar panels, or even microfluidic air filters. Using sunlight to drive a microfluidic air filter or aliment an indoor solar panel -- which would be protected from the elements and last longer -- is a novel way to use solar energy to supplement non-renewable resources.

In such a system, it would be essential to deviate from the secondary devices such as air filtrage and solar panels to maintain a comfortable constant light source for ceiling lighting -- the flickering of the light source due to a cloud passing over would be intolerable. In order to modulate these different channels to maintain a constant light source, a system using electrowetting could deviate light from one channel into another both easily and inexpensively. A droplet of water sits on the outer surface of light tube. A small current excites the ions in the water, pushing them to the edge of the droplet and expanding it just enough for it to touch the surface of another tube. This expanded droplet then creates a light bridge between the two parallel light tubes, effectively moderating the amount of light streaming through either one.

Up-scaling for industrial use

"The main challenge optofluidics faces in the energy field is to maintain the precision of nano and micro light and fluid manipulation while creating industrial sized installations large enough to satisfy the population's energy demand," explains David Erickson, professor at Cornell University and visiting professor at EPFL. "Much like a super computer is built out of small elements, up-scaling optofluidic technology would follow a similar model -- the integration of many liquid chips to create a super-reactor."

Since most reactions in liquid channels happen at the point of contact between the liquid and the catalyst-lined tubes, the efficiency of a system depends on how much surface area is available for reactions to take place. Scaling down the size of the channels to the micro and nano level allows for thousands more channels in the same available space, greatly increasing the overall surface area and leading to a radical reduction of the size needed (and ultimately the cost) for catalytic and other chemical reactions. Adding a light source as a catalyst to the directed flow of individual molecules in nanotubes allows for extreme control and high efficiency.

Their review in Nature Phontonics lays out several possibilities for up-scaling optofluidics, such as using optical fibers to transport sunlight into large indoor biofuel reactors with mass-produced nanotubes. They point out that the use of smaller spaces could increase power density and reduce operating costs; optofluidics offers flexibility when concentrating and directing sunlight for solar collection and photovoltaic panels; and by increasing surface area, the domain promises to reduce the use of surface catalysts -- the most expensive element in many reactors.


Monday, September 12, 2011

ROI of 11-12% Predicted for Commercial Renewables

Businesses that invest in renewable energy could make average returns of 11 to 12 percent, with the potential for returns in excess of 20 percent, according to research by U.K. low-carbon advocacy group Carbon Trust.

New financial incentives, energy market trends and building regulations are combining to create what Carbon Trust calls “a compelling case” for British businesses to generate their own renewable energy, according to The Case For Renewables in U.K. Business.

The trust singles out government initiatives such as the renewable heat incentive and the feed-in tariff as two programs that are key to this “compelling case”. The research also highlights predictions that energy prices are set to grow by up to 37 percent by 2020 as a major factor affecting the financial success of investing in renewable energy.

According to the research, anaerobic digestion, wind, biomass heating systems and ground source heat pumps are some of the most attractive and practical renewable energy technologies for U.K. businesses.

Retailers and consumer goods retailers are leading the way in the adoption of renewable technologies, according to the report. In the U.K., Asda, Ikea, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer have all set a target of moving to 100 percent renewable energy.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Better Desalination Technology Key to Solving World's Water Shortage

Over one-third of the world's population already lives in areas struggling to keep up with the demand for fresh water. By 2025, that number will nearly double. Some countries have met the challenge by tapping into natural sources of fresh water, but as many examples -- such as the much-depleted Jordan River -- have demonstrated, many of these practices are far from sustainable.

A new Yale University study argues that seawater desalination should play an important role in helping combat worldwide fresh water shortages -- once conservation, reuse and other methods have been exhausted -- and provides insight into how desalination technology can be made more affordable and energy efficient.

"The globe's oceans are a virtually inexhaustible source of water, but the process of removing its salt is expensive and energy intensive," said Menachem Elimelech, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale and lead author of the study, which appears in the Aug. 5 issue of the journal Science.

Reverse osmosis -- forcing seawater through a membrane that filters out the salt -- is the leading method for seawater desalination in the world today. For years, scientists have focused on increasing the membrane's water flux using novel materials, such as carbon nanotubes, to reduce the amount of energy required to push water through it.

In the new study, Elimelech and William Phillip, now at the University of Notre Dame, demonstrate that reverse osmosis requires a minimum amount of energy that cannot be overcome, and that current technology is already starting to approach that limit. Instead of higher water flux membranes, Elimelech and Phillip suggest that the real gains in efficiency can be made during the pre- and post-treatment stages of desalination.

Seawater contains naturally occurring organic and particulate matter that must be filtered out before it passes through the membrane that removes the salt. Chemical agents are added to the water to clean it and help coagulate this matter for easier removal during a pre-treatment stage. But if a membrane didn't build up organic matter on its surface, most if not all pre-treatment could be avoided, according to the scientist's findings.

In addition, Elimelech and Phillip calculate that a membrane capable of filtering out boron and chloride would result in substantial energy and cost savings. Seventy percent of the world's water is used in agriculture, but water containing even low levels of boron and chloride -- minerals that naturally occur in seawater -- cannot be used for these purposes. Instead of removing them during a separate post-treatment stage, the scientists believe a membrane could be developed that would filter them more efficiently at the same time as the salt is removed.

Elimelech cautions that desalination should only be considered a last resort in the effort to provide fresh water to the world's populations and suggests that long-term research is needed to determine the impact of seawater desalination on the aquatic environment, but believes that desalination has a major role to play now and in the future.

"All of this will require new materials and new chemistry, but we believe this is where we should focus our efforts going forward," Elimelech said. "The problem of water shortage is only going to get worse, and we need to be ready to meet the challenge with improved, sustainable technology.


Super Green Consumers Indulge Taste for Bling

“Super green” consumers – those engaged in the highest amount of environmentally-friendly activities – are top earners with a penchant for luxury items, according to a report from Scarborough Research.

Super greenies account for five percent of U.S. adults and are 76 percent more likely than the average adult to have an annual household income of $150,000 or greater, according to the report, All About the Super Greenies (pdf). These consumers are more likely to own homes valued above $500,000, as well as to own second homes, and, additionally, out-pace the U.S. population when it comes to having a diverse investment portfolio, Scarborough said.

“Today’s environmentalists have traded sandals and hemp for cashmere and a Lexus,” vice president of marketing Deirdre McFarland said. “As the American economy continues to try to find its footing, luxury marketers – or, really, any marketer who wants to capture the American high spending population – could benefit from green-focused marketing, promotions and products.”

The super green are far more likely than the average adult to spend upwards of $500 a year on cosmetics or fine jewelry. They are 49 percent more likely to plan to buy a new luxury vehicle in the coming year, and 77 percent more likely to plan to spend upwards of $45,000 on new car purchases in the household.

The super greens are most dominant in the north-west of the U.S. and in San Francisco.

The report also found that super greenies tend to be locally-focused in their uses of the internet. These consumers are 51 percent more likely than the average to go online to check the weather, 89 percent more likely to use the internet to search for a business address or telephone number, and 60 percent more likely to consume local online news.

Scarborough said its findings have implications for the banking and household goods industries. “As the banking industry continues to seek new ways to expand business, despite the ongoing turmoil in the markets, financial marketers can think green. The robust investment and financial profiles of Super Greenies suggest that green-oriented messaging and marketing can help banks connect with this consumer group on a personal level.

“Super Greenies continue to invest in household goods, despite dips in the housing market,” the report added. “This provides good opportunities for brand development among home accessories stores.”

And the report noted that super greens tend to lead healthy lifestyles, by hitting the gym, enjoying a healthy diet and spending time outdoors. “Green is a lifestyle, and part of that lifestyle is keeping active and healthy. Cross-promotions with health clubs, organic goods manufacturers and healthy food brands provide a way to connect with the Super Green consumer while they’re engaging in things they enjoy.”


Friday, July 15, 2011

CO2 to Hold Steady This Year, But Rise Coming in 2012

The Energy Information Administration expects fossil-fuel CO2 emissions to remain flat in 2011, as higher petroleum and natural gas consumption is offset by a decline in coal, according to the agency’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook.

Increases in hydroelectric and other renewable energy generation will help to mitigate growth in emissions, EIA says, and it expects natural gas inventories to approach record levels this year. But the agency expects a 0.9 percent increase in fossil-fuel CO2 emissions in 2012 as consumption rises.

EIA expects very little growth in electricity consumption this year, with a decline in residential use balancing out increased electricity sales to industrial and commercial sectors. Average residential prices are expected to rise 2.9 percent from 11.6 cents per kWh in 2010 to 11.9 cents per kWh this year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that cooling degree-days this summer will be about 14 percent lower than last summer, resulting in a 5.3 percent comparative decline in residential electricity consumption.

Natural gas generation in the electric power sector is projected to increase by 1.6 percent in 2011 and by 1.2 percent in 2012. Natural gas’s share of electricity generation has shifted either up or down, depending on what part of the country is under consideration.

Its share in the West Census Region slumped from 29 percent to 19 percent between Q1 2010 and Q1 2011, reaching the smallest first-quarter share since 2000, as a result of record levels of hydroelectric generation. On the other hand, low marginal costs for natural gas compared to coal pushed up natgas’s share by nearly six percent in the Northeast Census region.

EIA expects that generators in the East will continue the trend of substituting natural gas for coal, with nationwide coal production falling by 1.2 percent this year, while in the West natural gas’s share will rise as hydroelectric’s falls. But in 2012, EIA expects a 1.8 percent increase in coal production. It expects the power-sector deliverd coal price to rise from $2.26 per MMBtu in 2010 to $2.32 in 2011, and then hold steady in 2012.

Working inventories of natural gas ended June 2011 at 2.5 trillion cubic feet, or about eight percent below their level one year previously. EIA expects that these inventories will build strongly this summer and approach record-high levels in the second half of 2011, with the Henry Hub natural gas spot price projected to average $4.27 per million British thermal units, $0.12 below the 2010 average.

EIA expects, however, that the natural gas market will begin to tighten in 2012, with the spot price increasing to an average of $4.54.

The agency predicts that regular-grade gasoline prices will average $3.62 and $3.51 per gallon over the third and fourth quarters of 2011, a further drop from their $3.68 per gallon level in June. That was itself a steep drop from the average $3.91 per gallon price in May, which reflected a decline in crude oil prices from their April peak, as well as recovery from refinery outages and Mississippi River flooding.

EIA expects oil markets to tighten through 2012, although the IEA release of strategic oil reserves will provide some additional supply. The projected cost of crude oil for U.S. average refiner acquisition is for $108 per barrel in 2012, up from $102 in 2011 – about $1 per barrel below the projection in last month’s Outlook.


Putting Sunshine in the Tank

Working with the Universities of East Anglia, York and Nottingham and using nanotechnology 100,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, the researchers are working on harnessing the vast energy of the Sun to produce clean fuel.

The scientists are presenting their research at the Royal Society's annual Summer Science Exhibition which opens July 5, 2011.

Members of the consortium at UEA have already found a way to produce hydrogen from water. A revolutionary future use of this technology could be to make the fuel for hydrogen-powered cars, rather than making it from fossil fuel.

Now the scientists are aiming to use the same technology to create alternatives for other fuels and feedstock chemicals, including turning methane into liquid methanol and carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

The sun's potential is vast -- just one hour of sunlight is equivalent to the amount of energy used over the world in an entire year -- yet no one has yet tapped into its immense power to make fuels.

Professor Wendy Flavell, from The University of Manchester's Photon Science Institute, and her colleagues are working to create a solar-nano device using 'quantum dots' -- tiny clusters of semiconducting material which absorb sunlight.

When sunlight is absorbed, carriers of electric current are created. Together with catalyst molecules grafted to the surfaces of the dots, these create the new fuel -- for example hydrogen can be produced from water. Professor Flavell said: "Our sun provides far more energy than we will ever need, but we use it really inefficiently.

"To make better use of the fantastic resource we have in our Sun, we need to find out how to create solar fuel that can be stored and shipped to where it is needed and used on demand.

"Most hydrogen so far is obtained from fossil fuels, which are of course not going to last for ever, so it is important to get energy from renewable sources."One of the key questions is: 'what do we do when the sun goes down, what happens at night?' If we can store the energy harnessed from the sun during the day then we will have supplies ready to use when the sun is not shining.

"This is a first step in taking the vast power of the sun and using it to provide the world's fuel needs."

At the exhibition, Professor Flavell and her team will be displaying an interactive world map which will show children and other visitors just how much energy the Sun provides.

There will also be a chance to see the quantum dots at work, and show how, simply by changing the size of the dots, the colour of light they absorb or give out can be changed.

A solar cell that produces hydrogen directly from the electricity generated will also be on display and there will be a chance to race solar-powered and hydrogen-powered model racing cars.

Professor Chris Pickett of the University of East Anglia said "Creating catalytic devices which harvest light energy using quantum dots, or photovoltaic materials to drive the formation of synthetic fuels from water or carbon dioxide can be viewed as artificial photosynthesis.

"Globally, chemists, physicists and materials scientists are coming together to work on artificial photosynthesis to get to a stage where we can viably make clean, green fuels"

Professor Robin Perutz of the University of York said:"This is the most challenging scientific project I have ever been involved in, but it will be the most rewarding if we can bring it off. It's no use sitting back and hoping that someone else will work out how to harness the Sun's energy. This technology could revolutionise our energy usage in the coming decades."


Monday, June 13, 2011

10 Perspectives on the Future of Water

By Tilde Herrera

Water today is cheap, poorly managed and becoming increasingly scarce, and what is already a complex issue is only going to get more complicated as the global population continues to swell and the world's aging infrastructure gets older.

Similar to the challenges facing us with climate change, action on water scarcity is torturously slow. But unlike climate change, water shortages are a near-term life-or-death situation. The good news is that the battle isn't going unfought.

On Tuesday, Dow Chemical Co. brought together 60 of the world's leading water experts for a free, fast-moving virtual conference that explored the past, present and future of the global water challenge as part of its The Future We Create initiative. Sixty representatives from industry, academia, nonprofits and other thought leaders each offered back-to-back one-minute messages about water as it relates to people and businesses.

"The key to solving our biggest challenges lies at the intersection of science, collaboration and human ingenuity," Mary Jo Piper, Dow Chemical's public affairs manager, said in an email. "Collaboration is critical -- it requires human interactions and productive conversations based on mutual respect. That's why Dow created The Future We Create conference series -- to provide a meeting ground for leading-edge thinkers and curious minds to learn, share and act for a better future for us all."

We'd be remiss if we didn't ask the question: Is Dow the right company to talk about the future of water? The company has had its own water-related issues, including a dioxin clean-up near its headquarters and lawsuits alleging water contamination. While the company wouldn't comment on pending litigation, it did note that technology from its Water and Processing Solutions unit is being used to produce 22 million cubic meters of water daily around the world. It has also managed to reduce water consumption at its biggest production site by a billion gallons a year, which is fairly impressive by any measure.

In any case, the virtual conference included a wealth of interesting information. Below are some memorable quotes that caught my attention from the program, which is still available online:

• "Water is cheap right now, relatively speaking; it's not going to stay that way. It's not plentiful; it is not going to become more plentiful. The time for companies to act is when it's less expensive to act, versus more expensive to act. Companies that have invested in water technologies include Khosla, Kleiner, DMJ -- huge corporations out there. I think all of this activity bodes well for the future of water and our ability to handle our water challenges, though there is a long way to go." -- Lara Abrams, founder of Lara Abrams Communication

• "An average American uses more than twice as the amount of water as the average person uses in Hamburg, Germany; Rotterdam, Holland; and Barcelona, Spain. Similarly, from India to the Gulf countries, per capita water use is two to three times that of the cities which have more efficient water use." -- Asit Biswas, president, The Third World Center for Water Management

• "One of the things I've learned is that very few places know exactly how much water they've got with any accuracy. It's really difficult to make good investment decisions if you don't know how much water you've got to put into those investments. What we are seeing though is a massive change in the way people are engaging with their resources and their governments because of new technologies." -- Julia Bucknall, Water Unit manager, World Bank

• "An example of innovation could be Bolivia, where there's a village where they have these special mushrooms. They're sort of like a truffle that grows under pine trees. They found that if they add some fermented urine to them that the mushrooms will grow much faster. This is a great market, it's an existing market and this is an innovation that they developed locally. What we're trying to do is use that demand for urine as a reason to build a toilet. So we're finding some really interesting ways to build on local innovations to solve sanitation problems." -- Susan Davis, chief partnership officer, Water for People

• "I've found the biggest enemies of progress in the water sector are two things: turf and inertia. This leads to big anomalies in the water sector. For example, water is the biggest user of energy. That hasn't been widely known until recently ... What we need to do is step back and look at the opportunities created by these anomalies. -- F. Henry Habicht III, managing partner, SAIL Capital Partners


Seventh Gen, Whole Foods Top Green Brands Ranking

Seventh Generation and Whole Foods have topped survey respondents’ rankings of the greenest U.S. brands, even as consumer appetite for green products expands to include big-ticket items like cars and electronics.

Tom’s of Maine and Burt’s Bees came third and fourth in the rankings, compiled as part of the 2011 ImagePower Global Green Brands Study, carried out by Cohn & Wolfe, Landor Associates and Penn Schoen Berland Associates (PSB), as well as independent sustainability strategy consulting firm Esty Environmental Partners.

The full list includes:

1. Seventh Generation
2. Whole Foods
3. Tom’s of Maine
4. Burt’s Bees
5. Trader Joe’s
6. The Walt Disney Company
7. S.C. Johnson
8. Dove
9. Apple
10. Starbucks, Microsoft (tied)

“When we analyzed the approach of the top ten brands companies, using our Esty Environmental Scorecard, it was clear that the winners achieve a product-value-information trifecta,” said Amy Longsworth, partner at Esty Environmental Partners.

“The top brands offer clear price value through co-benefits: a great innovative product that meets my functional needs plus green attributes that meet my values needs,” Longsworth added. “These companies also tend to have robust life-cycle insight and complete sustainability strategies across their value chains, which enable them to draw from rich experience and data for their consumer communications.”

The survey found that consumer appetite for green products — in the past focused on personal care, food and household products — has expanded to include big-ticket purchases. Consumers worldwide intend to purchase more environmental products in the auto, energy and technology sectors compared to last year, the study found.

Consumers still buy the most green products in the grocery, household and personal-care categories, with roughly half of respondents making purchases in these categories, consistent with last year’s survey. But they are looking more closely at making green purchasing decisions on more expensive items. 22 percent of U.S. consumers said that they intend to purchase green tech products in the next year, up from 14 percent in 2010.

In the automotive sector, 12 percent of U.S. respondents said that they intend to go green, while 6 percent said that they purchased green vehicles last year. In energy, 27 percent of U.S. respondents intend to purchase green power, up from 24 percent in 2010.

In the survey, 73 percent said it is important to buy from green companies, but price perception remains a challenge — 62 percent see cost as the biggest barrier to buying green products. When evaluating what makes a brand a green leader, respondents mentioned their awareness of a brand’s corporate actions, values, recycling and packaging efforts, sustainability and supply chain decisions.

Overall, the report found that 54 percent of U.S. consumers think the environment is on the wrong track, up from previous polls: 47 percent of Americans thought so in 2010, while only 41 percent had this concern in 2009.

Meanwhile, around the globe, the poll found that only 43 percent of U.K. consumers feel the environment is off-track, down from 53 percent in 2009. In China, 39 percent reported environmental concerns, up from 29 percent last year. Germany, India and Brazil all had about 60 percent of respondents in 2011 indicating that they think the environment is on the wrong track.

The survey polled more than 9,000 people in eight countries.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

100 Leading Companies Measured on Actual vs. Perceived Sustainability Efforts

Full-service brand consulting firm, Brandlogic, in partnership with CRD Analytics, a leading provider of sustainability investment analytics that powers the NASDAQ CRD Global Sustainability Index (QCRD), today released the inaugural version of the "Sustainability Leadership Report: Measuring Perception vs. Reality." This report, Brandlogic's latest contribution to ideas that drive performance, is a quantitative analysis of actual vs. perceived performance around environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors for 100 leading companies. Supported by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), the report is available for immediate download at

Perceptual information was derived from a Brandlogic global research study conducted in 2011, which included an even mix from 2,400 of the three "most attentive" segments, supply chain managers, investment professionals and graduating college and university students located in the US, UK, Germany, Japan, India and China. CRD Analytics' SmartView(TM) platform was used to generate the actual performance data, using quantitative and qualitative data from 175 performance metrics and five key performance indicators within each ESG area.

One of the key findings from the report is the large number of firms -- 66 in total -- whose perceived performance exceeds their actual performance. Detailed scores for each company are included in the report, as well as the Sustainability IQ Matrix(TM), a visual framework that plots each of the 100 companies across four quadrants: "Challengers," "Leaders," "Laggards" and "Promoters."

Brandlogic's senior partner of strategy & research James Cerruti stated, "We want the 100 companies, as well as firms who were not analyzed, to look at the report and ask key questions about any reputational risks they may be facing and identify potential opportunities for improvement. Our goal is to help companies achieve results by better aligning their branding, communications, reporting and stakeholder engagement processes around these emerging priorities."

The report also sheds light on opportunities for improvement and unrealized return on investment. Hampton Bridwell, Brandlogic's managing partner and CEO, noted, "At its heart, the report is a leadership tool that frames sustainability in an objective, fact-based context. Ready or not, sustainability is an important component of corporate reputation, and audiences are constantly forming opinions about corporate behavior in this arena. This study utilizes the best sustainability data and takes into account thoughts from the companies' most attentive stakeholders -- individuals who are in unique positions to make investment decisions, see things through the supply chain or contemplate and compare employment opportunities."

[Click on picture to enlarge]


Monday, June 6, 2011

First Polymer Solar-Thermal Device Heats Home, Saves Money

A new polymer-based solar-thermal device is the first to generate power from both heat and visible sunlight -- an advance that could shave the cost of heating a home by as much as 40 percent.

Geothermal add-ons for heat pumps on the market today collect heat from the air or the ground. This new device uses a fluid that flows through a roof-mounted module to collect heat from the sun while an integrated solar cell generates electricity from the sun's visible light.

"It's a systems approach to making your home ultra-efficient because the device collects both solar energy and heat," said David Carroll, Ph.D., director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest University. "Our solar-thermal device takes better advantage of the broad range of power delivered from the sun each day."

Research showing the effectiveness of the device appears in the March issue of the peer-reviewed journal Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells.

A standard, rooftop solar cell will miss about 75 percent of the energy provided by the sun at any given time because it can't collect the longest wavelengths of light -- infrared heat. Such cells miss an even greater amount of the available daily solar power because they collect sunlight most efficiently between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

"On a rooftop, you have a lot of visible sunlight and heat from the infrared radiation," Carroll said. "The solar-cell industry has for the most part ignored the heat."

The design of the new solar-thermal device takes advantage of this heat through an integrated array of clear tubes, five millimeters in diameter. They lie flat, and an oil blended with a proprietary dye flows through them. The visible sunlight shines into the clear tube and the oil inside, and is converted to electricity by a spray-on polymer photovoltaic on the back of the tubes. This process superheats the oil, which would then flow into the heat pump, for example, to transfer the heat inside a home.

Unlike the flat solar cells used today, the curve of the tubes inside the new device allows for the collection of both visible light and infrared heat from nearly sunrise to sunset. This means it provides power for a much greater part of the day than does a normal solar cell.

Because of the general structure and the ability to capture light at oblique angles, this is also the first solar-thermal device that can be truly building-integrated -- it can be made to look nearly identical to roofing tiles used today.

Tests of the solar-thermal device have shown 30 percent efficiency in converting solar energy to power. By comparison, a standard solar cell with a polymer absorber has shown no greater than 8 percent conversion efficiency.

The research team will build the first square-meter-size solar-thermal cell this summer, a key step in getting the technology ready for market.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

First Macro-Scale Thin-Film Solid-Oxide Fuel Cell: Strong, Nanostructured Membrane Enables Scaling for Clean-Energy Applications

Materials scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and SiEnergy Systems LLC have demonstrated the first macro-scale thin-film solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC).

While SOFCs have previously worked at the micro-scale, this is the first time any research group has overcome the structural challenges of scaling the technology up to a practical size with a proportionally higher power output.

Reported online April 3 in Nature Nanotechnology, the demonstration of this fully functional SOFC indicates the potential of electrochemical fuel cells to be a viable source of clean energy.

"The breakthrough in this work is that we have demonstrated power density comparable to what you can get with tiny membranes, but with membranes that are a factor of a hundred or so larger, demonstrating that the technology is scalable," says principal investigator Shriram Ramanathan, Associate Professor of Materials Science at SEAS.

SOFCs create electrical energy via an electrochemical reaction that takes place across an ultra-thin membrane. This 100-nanometer membrane, comprising the electrolyte and electrodes, has to be thin enough to allow ions to pass through it at a relatively low temperature (which, for ceramic fuel cells, lies in the range of 300 to 500 degrees Celsius). These low temperatures allow for a quick start-up, a more compact design, and less use of rare-earth materials.

So far, however, thin films have been successfully implemented only in micro-SOFCs, where each chip in the fuel cell wafer is about 100 microns wide. For practical applications, such as use in compact power sources, SOFCs need to be about 50 times wider.

The electrochemical membranes are so thin that creating one on that scale is roughly equivalent to making a 16-foot-wide sheet of paper. Naturally, the structural issues are significant.

"If you make a conventional thin membrane on that scale without a support structure, you can't do anything—it will just break," says co-author Bo-Kuai Lai, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS. "You make the membrane in the lab, but you can't even take it out. It will just shatter."

With lead author Masaru Tsuchiya (Ph.D. '09), a former member of Ramanathan's lab who is now at SiEnergy, Ramanathan and Lai fortified the thin film membrane using a metallic grid that looks like nanoscale chicken wire.

The tiny metal honeycomb provides the critical structural element for the large membrane while also serving as a current collector. Ramanathan's team was able to manufacture membrane chips that were 5 mm wide, combining hundreds of these chips into palm-sized SOFC wafers.

While other researchers' earlier attempts at implementing the metallic grid showed structural success, Ramanathan's team is the first to demonstrate a fully functional SOFC on this scale. Their fuel cell's power density of 155 milliwatts per square centimeter (at 510 degrees Celsius) is comparable to the power density of micro-SOFCs.

When multiplied by the much larger active area of this new fuel cell, that power density translates into an output high enough for relevance to portable power.

Previous work in Ramanathan's lab has developed micro-SOFCs that are all-ceramic or that use methane as the fuel source instead of hydrogen. The researchers hope that future work on SOFCs will incorporate these technologies into the large-scale fuel cells, improving their affordability.

In the coming months, they will explore the design of novel nanostructured anodes for hydrogen-alternative fuels that are operable at these low temperatures and work to enhance the microstructural stability of the electrodes.

The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and performed in part at the Harvard University Center for Nanoscale Systems, a member of the NSF-funded National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network.

Source: [link]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Consumers Never Heard of ‘Biobased’ – But Know It’s Green

Most consumers say that biobased products are green – even though only a minority recognize the term “biobased”, according to research by a biotechnology company.

According to the Genencor Household Sustainability Index [pdf], 72 percent of U.S. consumers and 70 percent of Canadians said biobased ethanol fuel for vehicles is definitely, or is likely to be,“green”. When asked about biobased laundry or dishwasher detergents, 79 percent of U.S. and 83 percent of Canadian consumers said those products are probably or definitely green.

But despite consumers’ confidence in assessing the environmental credentials of biobased products, the survey found that just four in ten American consumers and about a third of Canadian consumers have heard of the term “biobased” to describe products.

And while consumers may be confident that biobased products are green, they have “a noticeable degree of skepticism” about whether products claiming to green actually benefit the environment, the report found.

Over a third of consumers surveyed – 37 percent in the U.S. and 33 percent in Canada - said they were “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that green products were better for the environment.

The poll also asked consumers what makes “green” products better for the environment. “Few or no toxic materials/ingredients” was the top answer for 22 percent of Americans and 36 percent of Canadians. Other popular choices were “breaks down naturally when disposed of”, “generates less pollution from manufacture or use”, and “can be recycled or reused”.

Some of the least popular answers were “fewer phosphates”, “no harmful health effects” and “made from biobased materials”.

And a whopping 34 percent of U.S. consumers, and 32 percent of Canadians, said either “other” or “don’t know/not applicable”.

“The findings indicate that consumers are prepared to actively choose biobased products, especially those consumers who are familiar with green products and are generally confident about their environmental claims,” said Tjerk de Ruiter, CEO of Genencor, which makes enzymes used in nearly 400 consumer and commercial products, including many green household materials.

In April the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 60 products had been awarded its then-new “BioPreferred” label for biobased products. Brands Hoover, DuPont and Seventh Generation were among the companies earning the right to use the BioPreferred seal.

At last count, 100 companies had submitted applications for about 400 products since the program started in January.

Products can qualify for the label in one of two ways:

* Those within pre-identified product categories must meet the minimum biobased content of that category.
* Those that do not fall within a pre-identified category must be 25 percent biobased, or the applicant can apply for an alternative minimum biobased content allowance.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Solar Cell Technology Greatly Boosts Efficiency

With the creation of a 3-D nanocone-based solar cell platform, a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Jun Xu has boosted the light-to-power conversion efficiency of photovoltaics by nearly 80 percent.

The technology substantially overcomes the problem of poor transport of charges generated by solar photons. These charges -- negative electrons and positive holes -- typically become trapped by defects in bulk materials and their interfaces and degrade performance.

"To solve the entrapment problems that reduce solar cell efficiency, we created a nanocone-based solar cell, invented methods to synthesize these cells and demonstrated improved charge collection efficiency," said Xu, a member of ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division.

The new solar structure consists of n-type nanocones surrounded by a p-type semiconductor. The n-type nanoncones are made of zinc oxide and serve as the junction framework and the electron conductor. The p-type matrix is made of polycrystalline cadmium telluride and serves as the primary photon absorber medium and hole conductor.

With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency of conventional planar structure of the same materials.

"We designed the three-dimensional structure to provide an intrinsic electric field distribution that promotes efficient charge transport and high efficiency in converting energy from sunlight into electricity," Xu said.

Key features of the solar material include its unique electric field distribution that achieves efficient charge transport; the synthesis of nanocones using inexpensive proprietary methods; and the minimization of defects and voids in semiconductors. The latter provides enhanced electric and optical properties for conversion of solar photons to electricity.

Because of efficient charge transport, the new solar cell can tolerate defective materials and reduce cost in fabricating next-generation solar cells.

"The important concept behind our invention is that the nanocone shape generates a high electric field in the vicinity of the tip junction, effectively separating, injecting and collecting minority carriers, resulting in a higher efficiency than that of a conventional planar cell made with the same materials," Xu said.

Research that forms the foundation of this technology was accepted by this year's Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers photovoltaic specialist conference and will be published in the IEEE Proceedings. The papers are titled "Efficient Charge Transport in Nanocone Tip-Film Solar Cells" and "Nanojunction solar cells based on polycrystalline CdTe films grown on ZnO nanocones."

The research was supported by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and the Department of Energy's Office of Nonproliferation Research and Engineering.

Other contributors to this technology are Sang Hyun Lee, X-G Zhang, Chad Parish, Barton Smith, Yongning He, Chad Duty and Ho Nyung Lee.


Monday, May 9, 2011

A Renewable Twist on Fossil Fuels

Pulling valuable fuels out of thin air? It sounds like magic, but Joel Rosenthal, a chemist at the University of Delaware, is working to transform carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, into gas for your car and clean-energy future fuels.

Such a feat could help reduce the rising CO2 levels implicated in global warming and also offer a new method of renewable energy production.

Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), a consortium of 98 Ph.D.-granting universities, of which UD is a member, has selected Rosenthal to receive the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award to pursue the novel research. Rosenthal is one of 30 award winners nationwide.

The competitive award, which provides $5,000 in seed funding from ORAU and $5,000 in matching funding from the faculty member's university, is intended to enrich the research and educational growth of young faculty and serve as a springboard to new funding opportunities.

Rosenthal and his team are designing electrocatalysts from metals such as nickel and palladium that will freely give away electrons when they react with carbon dioxide, thus chemically reducing this greenhouse gas into energy-rich carbon monoxide or methanol.

Besides its use in making plastics, solvents, carpet and other products, methanol fuels race cars in the United States and currently is being researched as a hydrogen carrier for fuel cell vehicles.

Carbon monoxide is an important precursor to liquid hydrocarbons in the energy arena, in addition to its applications as an industrial chemical for producing plastics to detergents to the acetic acid used in food preservation, drug manufacturing and other fields.

"The catalytic reduction of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide is an important transformation that would allow for the mitigation of atmospheric CO2 levels, while producing an energy-rich substrate that forms a basis for fuels production," Rosenthal says.

"The chemistry we're doing is energetically uphill -- it's an energy-storing process rather than a downhill, energy-liberating process," he notes. "And our goal is to make liquid fuel renewably from wind and solar sources, not from typical fossil fuel bases."

As early as junior high, Rosenthal said, he realized that basic life processes are linked to molecular energy conversion. Then his undergraduate and graduate research took off on renewables.

He earned his undergraduate degree in organic chemistry from New York University and his doctorate in inorganic chemistry at MIT while studying how metals catalyze various energy conversion processes. His doctoral adviser at MIT was Dan Nocera, a leading scientist in renewable energy research.

The strong reputation of the chemistry and biochemistry department lured Rosenthal, a New York City native, to UD. He joined the UD faculty this past fall and already has a research group of eight focusing on the project -- one postdoctoral researcher, four graduate students and three undergraduates.

"The CO2 problem is very important, and people have to tackle it," Rosenthal says. "It's my hope to be able to map out the molecular design principles for efficient CO2 conversion into fuels. Then you can think about doing this on a commercially relevant scale."

Conservative estimates predict that by 2050, the rate of global energy consumption will roughly double the rate recorded at the end of the 20th century. Most scientists believe that rising carbon dioxide levels are leading to global climate change.


Synthetic Trees Remove CO2 from Atmosphere !

There are people who think outside the box. Then there are people like Klaus Lackner who throw the box away entirely when they think. While others argue over new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Lackner has methods that will, as he puts it, “close the carbon loop” altogether.

“Stabilizing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air requires reducing carbon dioxide emissions to nearly zero,” Lackner said in testimony before the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment recently. “Think of pouring water into a cup: as long as you pour water into the cup, the water level in the cup goes up. It does not matter whether the maximum level is one inch below the rim or one and a half inches below the rim. In either case, you will eventually have to stop pouring.”

That sort of big-picture thinking is nothing new for the Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering. His efforts to find systemscale solutions to humanity’s demand for energy set the stage for Lackner’s seminal conclusion in 1999 that, to truly control carbon emissions, we would have to learn how to remove carbon dioxide directly from the air. The wind, he calculated, is vastly more efficient at transporting carbon dioxide to a collection device than it is as a means of generating electricity.

Now Lackner has taken his ideas one step further and is working with Global Research Technologies to create artificial trees that will pull carbon dioxide from the air, just as real trees do. His air capture machines are like giant filters that trap the carbon dioxide that will be later freed and converted into a liquid: syngas, synthetic gas that can be used as a fuelstock. Alternatively, it could be disposed of through geologic and mineral sequestration.

Our reliance on liquid hydrocarbon fuels for transportation has led Lackner to search for affordable low-carbon production methods. In a nod to his work contemplating an auxon army, he and his colleagues at the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy are looking for ways to apply the benefits of mass production to energy and fuels to drive down costs. In addition, he is taking a serious look at solar power as a way to eliminate carbon emissions from fuel production entirely and bring us closer to achieving a carbon-neutral society rather than simply dealing with the effects of climate change as they occur by doing such things as blocking a portion of the sun’s radiation.

“Imagine if we decided to solve our garbage problem by putting houses on stilts and raising them a little every year,” said Lackner. “That’s what a lot of geoengineering amounts to, and that’s not a solution to the problem. A real solution will only come by completely rethinking the way we use carbon.”

Learn more at [Link]

Watch the [VIDEO]

Bloomberg Claims 200% ROI on Sustainability

Every dollar that Bloomberg has spent on sustainability has saved two dollars in operating costs, according to the company’s first public sustainability report.

The media and financial services company said that demand reduction and capital investment projects have led to over $25 million in net savings since 2008. According to the report (pdf), last year Bloomberg met its targets on renewable energy credits, external energy star compliance, waste diversion and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, but missed goals related to on-site renewable energy, paper use and recycled content.

REC purchases were up 25 percent from 2008 to 2010, to 60 percent of kWh, exceeding initial targets. This was due to savings made through deregulated energy contracts and to unexpected RECS bought to satisfy LEED requirements, the report said. Almost half of Bloomberg’s 13,000 employees will sit in LEED-certified office space by 2012, the company projected.

Last year, 100 percent of eligible, shipped customer equipment – the terminals and screens that Bloomberg clients use to monitor its news and data – was Energy Star compliant. Landfill waste was down 17 percent from 2007, and 59 percent of waste was diverted to landfill, beating a 50 percent goal.

But 2 MW of solar expected to be installed by year-end 2009 was postponed, and the current schedule calls for 1.8 MW in Q3 2011, with additional installations targeted for 2012. The company also fell short of its 50 percent paper reduction goal, reducing office paper purchases per PC by 39 percent from 2007 to 2010.

In 2010, 96 percent of paper that the company purchased for office use and its Markets magazine was FSC-certified, beating an 80 percent goal. But Bloomberg did not meet a goal of 50 percent recycled content, largely because it was unable to procure FSC-certified, recycled-content paper in Europe, the company said.

And travel emissions per employee were up 14 percent between 2008 and 2010. Bloomberg said this was due to increasing its headcount of customer-facing staff, such as sales teams, but hopes to address the issue in “the near future”, as teleconferencing equipment improves.

Last year the company’s absolute greenhouse gas emissions jumped by 26 percent over 2009 levels, but excluding recent acquisitions, GHGs actually fell by 1.5 percent. Businessweek and New Energy Finance (NEF), acquired in 2009, contributed 25 percent of Bloomberg’s 193,577 ton gross carbon output. Offsets took that corporate total down to 133,677 tons.

Bloomberg said that its environmental efforts have avoided about 83,000 metric tons of CO2e since 2008, the equivalent of emissions from burning 410 railcars of coal.

In examining its environmental impact, Bloomberg also considers its editorial content. carried 1,976 stories on clean energy and environmental issues in 2010, the company said

“Robust stakeholder engagement is critical for companies that are looking to integrate sustainability leadership and innovation across their entire enterprise,” said Mindy Lubber, president of investment advocacy group Ceres. “It’s an especially welcome development to see private companies like Bloomberg embrace the value of this approach.”

The report has been assessed as GSI application level B+.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Antibody-Based Biosensor Can Guide Environmental Clean-Ups, Provide Early Warning System for Spills

Tests of a new antibody-based "biosensor" developed by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science show that it can detect marine pollutants like oil much faster and more cheaply than current technologies. The device is small and sturdy enough to be used from a boat.

Testing of the biosensor in the Elizabeth River and Yorktown Creek, which both drain into lower Chesapeake Bay, shows that the instrument can process samples in less than 10 minutes, detect pollutants at levels as low as just a few parts per billion, and do so at a cost of just pennies per sample. Current technology requires hours of lab work, with a per-sample cost of up to $1,000.

"Our biosensor combines the power of the immune system with the sensitivity of cutting-edge electronics," says Dr. Mike Unger of VIMS. "It holds great promise for real-time detection and monitoring of oil spills and other releases of contaminants into the marine environment."

The biosensor was developed and tested by Unger, fellow VIMS professor Steve Kaattari, and their doctoral student Candace Spier, with assistance from marine scientist George Vadas. The team's report of field tests with the sensor appears in this month's issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

The instrument was developed in conjunction with Sapidyne Instruments, Inc., with funding from the state of Virginia, the Office of Naval Research, and the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology, a partnership between NOAA and the University of New Hampshire.

The tests in the Elizabeth River took place during clean up of a site contaminated by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), byproducts of decades of industrial use of creosote to treat marine pilings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers PAHs highly toxic and lists 17 as suspected carcinogens.

The biosensor allowed the researchers to quantify PAH concentrations while the Elizabeth River remediation was taking place, gaining on-site knowledge about water quality surrounding the remediation site. Spier says the test was "the first use of an antibody-based biosensor to guide sampling efforts through near real-time evaluation of environmental contamination."

In the Yorktown Creek study, the researchers used the biosensor to track the runoff of PAHs from roadways and soils during a rainstorm.

Biosensor development

Kaattari says "Our basic idea was to fuse two different kinds of technologies -- monoclonal antibodies and electronic sensors -- in order to detect contaminants."

Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system of humans and other mammals. They are particularly well suited for detecting contaminants because they have, as Kaattari puts it, an "almost an infinite power to recognize the 3-dimensional shape of any molecule."

Mammals produce antibodies that recognize and bind with large organic molecules such as proteins or with viruses. The VIMS team took this process one step further, linking proteins to PAHs and other contaminants, then exposing mice to these paired compounds in a manner very similar to a regular vaccination.

"Just like you get vaccinated against the flu, we in essence are vaccinating our mice against contaminants," says Kaattari. "The mouse's lymphatic system then produces antibodies to PAHs, TNT, tributyl tin [TBT, the active ingredient in anti-fouling paints for boats], or other compounds."

Once a mouse has produced an antibody to a particular contaminant, the VIMS team applies standard clinical techniques to produce "monoclonal antibodies" in sufficiently large quantities for use in a biosensor.

"This technology allows you to immortalize a lymphocyte that produces only a very specific antibody," says Kaattari. "You grow the lymphocytes in culture and can produce large quantities of antibodies within a couple of weeks. You can preserve the antibody-producing lymphocyte forever, which means you don't have to go to a new animal every time you need to produce new antibodies."

From antibody to electrical signal

The team's next step was to develop a sensor that can recognize when an antibody binds with a contaminant and translate that recognition into an electrical signal. The Sapidyne® sensor used by the VIMS team works via what Kaattari calls a "fluorescence-inhibitory, spectroscopic kind of assay."

In the sensor used on the Elizabeth River and Yorktown Creek, antibodies designed to recognize a specific class of PAHs were joined with a dye that glows when exposed to fluorescent light. The intensity of that light is in turn recorded as a voltage. The sensor also houses tiny plastic beads that are coated with what Spier calls a "PAH surrogate" -- a PAH derivative that retains the shape that the antibody recognizes as a PAH molecule.

When water samples with low PAH levels are added to the sensor chamber (which is already flooded with a solution of anti-PAH antibodies), the antibodies have little to bind with and are thus free to attach to the surrogate-coated beads, providing a strong fluorescent glow and electric signal. In water samples with high PAH concentrations, on the other hand, a large fraction of the antibodies bind with the environmental contaminants. That leaves fewer to attach to the surrogate-coated beads, which consequently provides a fainter glow and a weaker electric signal.

During the Elizabeth River study, the biosensor measured PAH concentrations that ranged from 0.3 to 3.2 parts per billion, with higher PAH levels closer to the dredge site. In Yorktown Creek, the biosensor showed that PAH levels in runoff peaked 1 to 2 hours after the rain started, with peak concentration of 4.4 parts per billion.

Comparison of the biosensor's field readings with later readings from a mass spectrometer at VIMS showed that the biosensor is just as accurate as the more expensive, slower, and laboratory-bound machine.

A valuable field tool

Spier says "Using the biosensor allowed us to quickly survey an area of almost 900 acres around the Elizabeth River dredge, and to provide information about the size and intensity of the contaminant plume to engineers monitoring the dredging from shore. If our results had shown elevated concentrations, they could have halted dredging and put remedial actions in place."

Unger adds "measuring data in real-time also allowed us to guide the collection of large-volume water samples right from the boat. We used these samples for later analysis of specific PAH compounds in the lab. This saved time, effort, and money by keeping us from having to analyze samples that might contain PAHs at levels below our detection limit."

"Biosensors have their constraints and optimal operating conditions," says Kaattari, "but their promise far outweighs any limitations. The primary advantages of our biosensor are its sensitivity, speed, and portability. These instruments are sure to have a myriad of uses in future environmental monitoring and management."

One promising use of the biosensor is for early detection and tracking of oil spills. "If biosensors were placed near an oil facility and there was a spill, we would know immediately," says Kaattari. "And because we could see concentrations increasing or decreasing in a certain pattern, we could also monitor the dispersal over real time."


Thursday, May 5, 2011

New Online Mechanism for Electric Vehicle Charging

Researchers at the University of Southampton have designed a new pricing mechanism that could change the way in which electric vehicles are charged. It is based on an online auction protocol that makes it possible to charge electric vehicles without overloading the local electricity network.

The paper entitled Online Mechanism Design for Electric Vehicle Charging was presented this week at AAMAS 2011 -- the Tenth Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems, and outlines a system where electric vehicle owners use computerised agents to bid for the power to charge the vehicles and also organise time slots when a vehicle is available for charging.

Dr Alex Rogers, University of Southampton computer scientist and one of the paper's authors, says: "Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are expected to place a considerable strain on local electricity distribution networks. If many vehicles charge simultaneously, they may overload the local distribution network, so their charging needs to be carefully scheduled."

To address this issue, Dr Rogers and his team turned to the field of online mechanism design. They designed a mechanism that allows vehicle owners to specify their requirements (for example, when they need the vehicle and how far they expect to drive). The system then automatically schedules charging of the vehicles' batteries. The mechanism ensures that there is no incentive to 'game the system' by reporting that the vehicle is need earlier than is actually the case, and those users who place a higher demand on the system are automatically charged more than those who can wait.

University of Southampton computer scientist Dr Enrico Gerding, the lead author of the paper, adds: "The mechanism leaves some available units of electricity un-allocated. This is counter-intuitive since it seems to be inefficient but it turns out to be essential to ensure that the vehicle owners don't have to delay plugging-in or misreport their requirements, in an attempt to get a better deal."

In a study based on the performance of currently available electric vehicles, performed by Dr Valentin Robu and Dr Sebastien Stein, the mechanism was shown to increase the number of electric vehicles that can be charged overnight, within a neighbourhood of 200 homes, by as much as 40 per cent.

This research follows on from Dr Rogers' and Professor Nick Jennings' work on developing agents that can trade on the stock market and manage crisis communications and Dr Rogers' iPhone application, GridCarbon for measuring the carbon intensity of the UK grid.


Power purchase agreements (PPAs), Other Deal Financing Tools will Weigh on Balance Sheets

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) have amended their accounting standards, writes BusinessTimes. And the new rules are expected to impact the way energy deals function. Two of the most popular financing arrangements in the industry, sale leasebacks and power purchase agreements (PPAs), would be hit the hardest by these changes, according to analysis at

PPAs, one area to see significant impact with the changes, are currently treated as service contracts, but that would be reclassified. Under the new standards, NREL said, “…a normal commercial PPA with the vast majority of energy fed to the host would be classified as leases. PPAs, treated as leases, would be reported on a company’s balance sheet, removing one of its major incentives for hosts: buying the electricity and outsourcing the hassle of owning a solar system.”

The other area caught up in the changes is the use of a sale leaseback, a common financing route used to circumvent the burden of a capital lease. According to NREL, “currently, there is a difference between an operating lease and a capital lease. In an operating lease, the lessee has the right to use an asset and not assume the responsibility of ownership. Because of this lack of responsibility, the lessee does not have to put the asset on its balance sheet.”

According to, at the moment businesses are only required to include capital leases as assets on their balance sheets. The new rules change that, and would require all companies to list all lease transactions as assets and liabilities on their balance sheets. This requirement could deter energy-efficiency investments for developers, companies and non-profits by souring the “off-the-books” benefits of sale leasebacks, Forbes said.

Although the financial mechanics of these transactions will remain unchanged, companies who pursue energy efficiency or clean energy will have heavier balance sheets and risk being perceived as having higher leverage than they otherwise would, Forbes said. This could make debt more expensive for companies who perform lease transactions.

As well, writes Forbes, heavier balance sheets will lead to higher tax exposure, more extensive disclosure requirements and steeper annual accounting costs.

FASB and IASB are still receiving feedback from industry. The groups have a financial asset and financial liability round-table meeting in Singapore on Friday and another in Norwalk, Conn., on May 9.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Overview of Cleantech VC deals in April: Greentech Venture Funding in April Roundup $335M

A total of more than $335 million invested in 27 deals.
[information compiled by Greentech media]

Venture capital funding of greentech firms totaled $2.6 billion in the first quarter of 2011 -- an extremely strong showing, albeit with a leaning towards later-stage deals.

The momentum seemed to slow a bit in April with more than $330 million invested in 26 deals. The biggest greentech deal this month was Suniva with their $115M round D, closed after suspending their request for a DOE loan guarantee.

VC Funding in Solar

Suniva (Atlanta, Georgia) a manufacturer of high-efficiency monocrystalline silicon solar cells raised $94 million of a $115 million round D from NEA, Warburg Pincus, et al.

SolarReserve (Santa Monica, California), a developer of utility-scale solar thermal power plants, raised a $20M round C from undisclosed investors. The new round brings SolarReserve's total VC raised to over $160 million from Argonaut Private Equity, Citi, Credit Suisse, Good Energies, Nimes Capital, PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund, and US Renewables Group.

Tigo Energy (Los Gatos, California), a provider of solar panel electronics raised $10 million from Generation Investment Management, Matrix Partners, OVP Venture Partners, ICV Partners, IAC, and Clal Energy. The firm previously raised $27 million from Inventec Appliances, Matrix Partners, OVP Venture Partners, and ICV.

Geostellar (Reston, Virginia), a developer of technology to determine the best places for solar (or wind, hydro and biofuel plants) won $2 million from Flash Forward Ventures.

VC Investment in Fuel Cells and Energy Storage

Ioxus (Oneonta, New York), a manufacturer of ultracapacitor technology, raised $21 million from Energy Technology Ventures, Northwater Capital, Aster Capital, and Braemar Energy Ventures. The firm plans to expand its manufacturing capacity from 20,000 ultracaps a month to 200,000 a month for use in markets like wind, portable lights, and transportation. Energy Technology Ventures is a JV between GE, ConocoPhillips and NRG Energy. Aster Capital is an investment vehicle for Alstom and Schneider Electric.

FutureE Fuel Cell Solutions (Germany) secured investment from Deutsche Telekom’s venture capital arm T-Venture, German development bank KfW, and the U.K.-based Entrepreneurs Fund for its PEM fuel cells ranging in power from 0.5 kilowatt to 50 kilowatts.

ReliOn (Spokane, Washington), a maker of fuel cells for backup power applications, raised $6 million from existing investors.

Intelligent Energy (Loughborough, UK) raised $11.4 million from existing investors such as Scottish and Southern Energy and Scottish Enterprise to develop hydrogen fuel cells.

VC Investment in Smart Buildings

Scientific Conservation (San Francisco, California), a building energy management company, closed its round B with more than $19 million from GE Energy Financial Services, Intel, and Triangle Peak Partners. Scientific Conservation's software-as-a-service approach reduces energy spending by contrasting modeled energy and system efficiencies against real-time operation.

OutSmart Power Systems (Natick, Mass.), a spin-out of Manifold Products building a network of software and hardware for energy management and monitoring in commercial buildings, added $1.8 million to a debt-based funding round that could reach $4.5 million. Previous VC investors included Bainco International Investors, the Clean Energy Venture Group, and Manifold Products.

Panoramic Power (Israel), a real-time, cloud-hosted energy-monitoring company, raised $4.5 million in new funding from Israel Cleantech Ventures, Greylock Parnters, Clal Energy, Qualcomm Ventures, Israel Electric Co., and Alexander Schneider, bringing the company's total funding to $6 million.

VC Investment in Smart Grid

Utilicase (Montreal, Quebec) won a $5 million investment deal from Cycle Capital for optimization in real time of electrical production management.

VC Investment in Lighting

Shine-on (China) raised a $51.5 million round B from Mayfield Fund, IDG-Accel Capital, GSR Ventures, and Northern Light Ventures for packaging, chip and applications design for the high brightness LED market.

Digital Lumens (Boston, Mass.), a developer of LED lighting systems, raised a $10 million round B. Return backers include Black Coral Capital, Flybridge Capital Partners and Stata Venture Partners. The company also secured a line of credit from Silicon Valley Bank.

Barefoot Power won angel backing for its solar powered LED lighting for developing nations.

VC Investment in Biofuels and Biomass

Shalivahana Green Energy Limited (Andhra Pradesh, India) a biomass power producer, received $15 million from International Finance Corporation (IFC).

VC Funding in Wind Power

Wind Energy Direct (Limerick, Ireland), won a $29.6 million round from ESB Novusmodus. The firm installs wind turbines on customer’s industrial sites and finances, owns, and operates the turbines while selling the electricity produced to it customers at a discount to their retail rate.

Greengate Power (Calgary, Alberta), a developer of wind energy projects, raised $15.2 million in funding from The Westly Group, NGEN Partners and SAM Private Equity.

VC Funding in Energy Efficiency

Groom Energy (Salem, Mass.) a provider of energy assessments and renewable energy projects received $2.6 million in funding from a group of angel investors.

GMZ Energy (Waltham, Mass.) won $7 million as part of a first funding round from Mass High Tech and with seed capital from Kleiner, Perkins Caulfield & Byers for its nanothermoelectric materials for cooling and waste heat harvest.

Hybrid Energy Solutions (Kilkenny, Ireland) won $1.2 million for its energy-efficient power generators used to power telecom infrastructures without access to power grids. Kernel Capital led the round.

Next Step Living (Boston, Mass.) won $1.5 million of a $2.8 million equity offering, according to an SEC filing. The firm assists consumers in the process of auditing their homes for energy inefficiencies. Previous investors included Black Coral Capital and the Clean Energy Venture Group.

VC Funding in Water Technology

Eureka Resources (Williamsport, Penn.), which focuses on wastewater treatment and disposal solutions to reduce the environmental impact of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Haddington Ventures.

Waterlife International (India) received an undisclosed amount from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

VC Funding in Transportation

Current Motor (Ann Arbor, Michigan), an electric motorcycle startup, raised $700,000 from Belle Capital, the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, and former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz.

VC Funding in Miscellaneous Greentech

CoalTek (Tucker, Georgia) raised $2 million of a targeted $3 million round to bring its total funding to $53 million. CoalTek reduces the moisture content in a range of coals, with the goal of enhancing plant efficiency and environmental safety. Previous investors in the firm include Braemar Energy Venture, Lightspeed Ventures, Technology Partners, Element Ventures, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Atlantis Resources (London, England) completed a $6 million round from Statkraft, Morgan Stanley, et al. for their tidal-current powered turbines.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hot Clean energy technologies - highlights from the MIT Clean Energy Prize

Here is a list of the technologies I found interesting and that I would recommend looking into:

Ubiquitous Energy

They transform any paper or textile surface into a renewable energy source by depositing ultra-lightweight and ultra-flexible solar cells that retain the feel and performance of the underlying substrate. Products composed of these ubiquitous materials become convenient new formats for distributing energy to consumers. This award-winning technology is based on a simple, surface-independent, vapor-printing process that was developed by members of a team in the labs of MIT.

Effimax Solar

Effimax is known for its innovative, high-efficiency nanotexturing methods. Their patented solar cell processes dramatically lower manufacturing costs (by getting rid of manufacturing steps) and produce solar cells 22% more powerful than anything else on the market (thanks to cone-shaped cells). This efficiency increase directly translates into higher market value for your solar cells.

Resolute Marine Energy


Resolute Marine Energy, Inc. (RME) is developing wave energy converters (WEC) that generate clean energy from ocean waves. Our near-term goal is to complete development and commercialization of a wave-driven seawater desalination system that operates completely “off-grid” and fills a huge gap in the market for seawater desalination systems. We are also in the early stages of identifying opportunities to cost-effectively supply electricity to near-shore communities that currently rely upon diesel generators.

RME’s business model is to: target maritime commercial activities that would be enabled or greatly improved by the availability of an on-site renewable energy supply; identify specific industry leaders, customers or partners for a joint research/pilot project; and, use industry leaders, customers or partners to sell jointly-developed products into the targeted market.

S2E Solar

They make and sell S2E Solar Film(TM) — a proprietary “window electrode” product that enables solar shingles for rooftop electricity generation to be 50% less expensive than existing solar cells and lower cost than grid electricity. The foundational IP behind S2E Solar Film was invented at Northwestern University.

POW Solutions

POW (Power Optimized Workloads) Solutions is building an enterprise software platform that allows IT data centers to execute incoming workloads in the most energy efficient way possible. They achieve this by 1) dynamically and intelligently managing server speed (in GHz) and 2) by determining the exact number of servers that are needed at any point, given an incoming workload (demand). Initial implementations of POW’s technology have shown up to a 30% decrease in response time (for the amount of power) or up to 30% decrease in power consumption (with next to no impact on job response time).


LinkCycle brings a novel approach to assessing the environmental performance of industrial products by bringing the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology to a collaborative, web-based environment. This allows the quantity of data to improve over time. Data quality also improves, because LCA standards are embedded in the functionality of the tool, which provide guided and easy-to-perform analysis. This significantly reduces the primary costs of conducting LCA of products–opening the market up to small and medium sized businesses.


MODride (Mobility-On-Demand Ride) builds on research conducted at the MIT Media Lab SmartCities group ( In partnership with General Motors, we have created a number of breakthroughs which will define the new era of clean, urban auto transportation.

A Billion Tons of Biomass a Viable Goal, but at High Price

A new study from the University of Illinois concludes that very high yield biomass would be needed in order to meet the ambitious goal of replacing 30 percent of petroleum consumption in the U.S. with biofuels by 2030.
A team of researchers led by Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, shows that between 600 and 900 million metric tons of biomass could be produced in 2030 at a price of $140 per metric ton (in 2007 dollars) while still meeting demand for food with current assumptions about yields, production costs and land availability.

The paper, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, is the first to study the technical potential and costs associated with producing a billion tons of biomass from different agricultural feedstocks -- including corn stover, wheat straw, switchgrass and miscanthus -- at a national level.

According to the study, not only would this require producing about a billion tons of biomass every year in the U.S., it would also mean using a part of the available land currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program for energy crop production, which could significantly increase biomass production and keep biomass costs low.

"Most studies only tell you how much biomass is potentially available but they don't tell you how much it's going to cost to produce and where it is likely to be produced," Khanna said.

"Our economic model looks at some of the major feedstocks that could produce biomass at various prices."

Khanna and her team concluded that high-yielding grasses such as miscanthus are needed to achieve the 30 percent replacement goal, "but even then it's going to be a fairly expensive proposition," she said.

When miscanthus is added to the mix, the goal of 1 billion tons of biomass can be achieved, but at a cost of more than $140 per ton.

"Most studies consider costs in the range of $40 to $50 per ton, which is fine when we're talking about biomass production to meet near-term targets for cellulosic biofuel production," Khanna said. "But if we really want to get to the 30 percent replacement of gasoline, at least with the current technology, then that's going to be much more costly."

According to Khanna, miscanthus has been excluded from previous studies because it's a crop that has yet to be grown commercially, and most of the research about it is recent and still considered experimental.

"But across the various scenarios and prices our model considered, miscanthus has the potential to provide 50 to 70 percent of the total biomass yield," she said. "In most parts of the U.S., miscanthus is cheaper to produce than switchgrass, making it a very promising high-yield crop."

The study also contends that the economic viability of cellulosic biofuels depends on significant policy support in the form of the biofuel mandate and incentives for agricultural producers for harvesting, storing and delivering biomass as well as switching land from conventional crops to perennial grasses.

"Unless biomass prices are really high, these perennial grasses are going to have a hard time competing with crops like corn, soybean and wheat for prime agricultural land," Khanna said. "The economics works in favor of using the marginal, less productive lands, where corn and soybean productivity is much lower. But even then there are limits as to how much we would like to use that land for biomass. The more efficiently we can use the land, the better."

With biofuels, there's also the common perception that there's an unavoidable trade-off between fuel and food, Khanna said.

"That concern is much more prevalent when we talk about first-generation biofuels like corn-based ethanol," she said. "But for second-generation fuels, you can use crop residues as well as dedicated energy crops that can be grown on marginal land. This reduces the need to divert cropland away from food crop production. I'm optimistic that we can get considerable amounts of biomass without disrupting food production."

But relying on crop residues alone won't be sufficient to scale production up to levels set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which limits the production of corn ethanol to 56 billion liters after 2015, and mandates the production of at least 80 of the 136 billion liters of ethanol from non-corn starch-based cellulosic feedstocks by 2022.

"Crop residue yields tend to be relatively low per unit of land -- 2 to 3 tons per hectare," Khanna said. "That can get costly pretty quickly. There are also concerns about how much you want to take away because at some point it has a negative effect on soil productivity as well as water quality because it affects run-off. So there are limits to crop residues, which is why we have to take a closer look at energy crops."

Because even marginal land is costly and has some alternative use, both now and in the future, using it as efficiently as possible means focusing more on the highest-yielding energy crops, Khanna said.

"Clearly the way to go is with the high-yielding grasses, which means switchgrass and miscanthus, but what we found is that it's not going to be a single feedstock but really a mix of feedstocks," she said.

Different regions of the country have a comparative advantage in different types of feedstocks.

"Corn stover is more common in the upper Midwest and West, whereas miscanthus is more prevalent in the southern part of the country and switchgrass in the real northern and southern areas," Khanna said.

The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the U. of I. Energy Biosciences Institute. Other co-authors are Hayri Önal, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, and research associates Xiaoguang Chen and Haixiao Huang, of the Energy Biosciences Institute.