Algae Produced Biofuels Too Good To Be True?

Green Star Products in San Diego is getting an enthusiastic response to their Algae-to-Biodiesel program according to this article by Fox Business.

Algae growth needs only sunlight, non-potable water (salt, briny or wastewater) and CO2, which is the major global warming gas.

One tank full of gasoline in your car emits over 200 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Algae eat CO2; convert it to oil, proteins, carbohydrates and other useful products; and, emit only oxygen to our atmosphere.

The plan is to take CO2 emissions from things like coal burning plants and let the algae convert this into biodiesel for use as fuel. Now this all sounds too good to be true and maybe I’m missing something but from what I see maybe it is in fact too good to be true.

As I understand it one of the big advantages in biodiesel is that any carbon content released when the fuel is burned is carbon that was already in the atmosphere to begin with. Plants take in CO2 from the air, plants are converted to fuel, and then burned in my Mercedes sending carbon back to the air. The net effect is no new carbon in the atmosphere. But if that CO2 the algae takes in originated in coal to begin with then we are again taking the carbon out of the ground and send it skyward. Maybe we are getting more work out of it on the way, but this seems far from ideal.

Nation’s Largest Commercial Solar Plant Now Online

On December 17th SunEdison, Americas largest solar energy services provider, announced that they activated a 8.22 Megawatt solar plant in Alamosa, Colorado.

This is the largest solar photovoltaic plant in the US for a major public utility.

Colorado passed a lot in march that requires utility companies to derive 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. The new solar plant will go a long way towards meeting that goal.

“With help from Governor Ritter and leading organizations including Xcel Energy and

SunEdison, Colorado is emerging as the renewable energy capital of the nation with the

deployment of the Alamosa photovoltaic solar plant and many other initiatives using

solar, wind and bio-fuels,” said United States Sen. Ken Salazar. “The development of

renewable energy resources will help to secure our energy independence, strengthen our

national and economic security and conserve our natural resources while revitalizing our

long-ignored rural communities. It is a win-win for everyone.”

This system occupies approximately 80 acres near Alamosa and will generate upwards of 17,000 Megawatt hours each year for the estimated 20 years the plant will be operational. That’s enough to light up 1500 homes. It’s a step in the right direction, at the very least.

Groundbreaking New Solar Panels

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Just the yesterday I was reading discussion about the expense of solar power opposed to coal plants and how solar will never be as cheap as coal; and then I found out that Nanosolar, a Silicon Valley company funded by the founders of google, has announced that it has shipped it’s first solar panels. Why is this a big deal?

Our product is defining in more ways I can enumerate here but includes:

– the world’s first printed thin-film solar cell in a commercial panel product;

– the world’s first thin-film solar cell with a low-cost back-contact capability;

– the world’s lowest-cost solar panel – which we believe will make us the first solar manufacturer capable of profitably selling solar panels at as little as $.99/Watt;

– the world’s highest-current thin-film solar panel – delivering five times the current of any other thin-film panel on the market today and thus simplifying system deployment;

– an intensely systems-optimized product with the lowest balance-of-system cost of any thin-film panel – due to innovations in design we have included.

Breaking the $1 per watt barrier is important; that means that it is possible to build a solar system that is cheaper than a coal plant.

The first solar panel off the line will be kept at the company headquarters for exhibit, the third will be donated to the tech museum in San Jose, and the 2nd was to be auctioned to the general public on eBay. That’s where Nanosolar hit a bit of a snag. When it became obvious that the bidding was going to be through the rough for this historic piece of equipment Nanosolar did the decent thing and decided to donate the proceeds from the auction to Charity. eBay however promptly canceled the auction because of some needlessly cryptic rule on charity auctions. After a short battle between Nanosolar’s legal team and eBay’s drones Nanosolar decided that they would just hang on to the number 2 solar panel and go back to making clean energy. Once again bureaucracy triumphs over the best of intentions.

Nations Largest Solar Plant Goes Online at Nellis AFB

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We certainly live in exciting times for solar energy; Just days ago the nation’s most powerful solar plant went online in Colorado and now the U.S. Air Force has one upped it. The new solar array at Nellis AFB will put out enough power to supply 25 percent of the power used by the 12,000 people on base.

“Nellis, the ‘Home of the Fighter Pilot,’ is now home to the largest solar electric plant in all of North America,” said Col. Michael Bartley, 99th Air Base Wing commander. “Our base and indeed our entire nation will benefit from the predictable, secure supply of clean energy that this landmark power plant is now generating.”

The Air Force is the largest consumer of electricity in the US Government so this is definitely a step in the right direction. In addition, the 140 acres of land the solar array was installed on is a capped landfill; so the possible uses for this real estate are pretty limited to begin with.

The solar field itself consists of more than 72,000 photovoltaic panels that track the sun; constructed from nearly 6,000,000 cells. It generates 14 megawatts of clean energy thereby reducing the CO2 emissions by 24,000 tons per year. That’s the equivalent of pulling 185,000 cars off the road.

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons noted that clean energy projects like this have the potential to reduce United States dependence on foreign and nonrenewable energy sources.

“Nellis is now generating 14 megawatts of clean, renewable energy–energy that meets the demands and the needs of Nellis AFB,” Governor Gibbons continued. “More importantly, its meeting the future. It’s demonstrating that we can use the abundant renewable resource of solar energy in the United States.”

I spent a few years working for a major defense contractor whose factory co-existed with the Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth. Our main plant building was over a mile long and as I drove into work each day I always wondered at how much energy we would be able to save if we covered that enormous span of roof baking in the hot Texas sun with Solar Panels. I know at the time it was not financially beneficial to do so but that place used an amazing amount of electricity. Now with new technology driving the price down where solar is competitive with the price of coal power we may be seeing large installations like this more and more.

Compact Fluorescent Bulb Disposal Tips

bulbThe king of all cheap, environmentally conscious things that everyone can do; the compact fluorescent light bulb. These little gizmos generally save 30 bucks in energy over the life of the bulb and save about 2,000 times their own weight in greenhouse gases. In addition they produce 75% less heat than incandescent bulbs; a major concern for those of us in warmer climates.

According to Energy Star (a program of the US environmental protection agency):

If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

On the downside, each of these blubs contains a small amount of mercury. As their popularity increases this is turning into a real concern for landfills. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association released this statement in March of 2007:

“Under the voluntary commitment, effective April 15, 2007, NEMA members will cap the total mercury content in CFLs of less than 25 watts at 5 milligrams (mg) per unit. The total mercury content of CFLs that use 25 to 40 watts of electricity will be capped at 6 mg per unit. NEMA is launching a website, http://www.cfl-mercury.org/, where CFL manufacturers conforming to the voluntary commitment on mercury will be listed.”

According to the EPA, once the compact fluorescent reaches the end of its lifespan you are encouraged to recycle it. Earth911.org is the perfect resource for finding out where you need to take these, and other hazardous materials.

In addition, care must be taken when cleaning up after a broken compact fluorescent bulb. The EPA recommends that you:

 

1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.

 

2. Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.

  • Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.

  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

 

3. Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.

  • Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal.

  • Note: some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.

  • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.

 

4. If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:

  • First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.

  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

Please note: were not talking about love canal here. The amount of mercury in one of these is about enough to cover the tip of a ball point pen. For all the good they do the environment, the risks and negative impacts are minimal.

There are a lot of things that we should be doing to improve the environment that are just flat out of the reach of most of the population. But this is one thing everyone can do. When a bulb burns out, replace it with a compact fluorescent. It’s that simple, it will save you money, and it’s the right the right thing to do.