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A weekly newsletter from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The EERE Network News is also available on the Web at: www.eere.energy.gov/news/enn.cfm

June 30, 2010

News and Events

Energy Connections

  • MIT Study: Natural Gas to Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

News and Events

DOE Awards $24 Million for Algal Biofuels Research

DOE announced on June 28 its selection of three research consortiums to receive up to $24 million to tackle commercialization of algae-based biofuels. The selections will support the development of a clean, sustainable transportation sector and creation of jobs in the domestic bio-industry while helping cut greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. The three consortia include partners from academia, national laboratories, and private industries located across the country. Projects are expected to continue for three years.

There are three consortia selected for funding. The Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium, led by Arizona State University, will focus on testing the acceptability of algal biofuels as replacements for petroleum-based fuels. DOE funding of up to $6 million will be dedicated to investigating biochemical conversion of algae to fuels and products as well as to analyzing physical chemistry properties of algal fuels and fuel intermediates. Also, the Consortium for Algal Biofuels Commercialization, led by the University of California, San Diego, will concentrate on developing algae as a robust biofuels feedstock. Up to $9 million in DOE funding will aid the search for new approaches to algal crop protection, algal nutrient utilization, and genetic tools. And the Cellana, LLC Consortium, led by Cellana, LLC, of Hawaii, will examine large-scale production of fuels and feed from microalgae grown in seawater. DOE will invest up to $9 million in tasks integrating new algal harvesting technologies with pilot-scale cultivation test beds, and in developing marine microalgae as animal feed for the aquaculture industry.

As these allied groups tackle hurdles to algal biofuels use, they will follow the path outlined by the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap which DOE released on June 28. This document synthesizes public comments on a draft version published in June 2009. That preliminary report summarized the work of more than 200 experts and stakeholders who took part in DOE's National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap Workshop. The final National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap is intended to guide future work and investments in algal biofuels. See the DOE press release, the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap (PDF 7.5 MB), and DOE's Biomass Program Web site. Download Adobe Reader.

New USDA Report Provides Roadmap for U.S. Biofuel Energy Goals

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report on June 23 detailing regional strategies to increase biofuels production to meet the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) mandate for U.S. consumers to use 36 billion gallons of biofuel per year by 2022. Authors of the USDA's Biofuels Strategic Production Report conclude that meeting RFS2 targets will require a rapid build-up in production capabilities and a substantial investment in biorefineries. The RFS2 implementation provisions are detailed in EPA's final rule for the RFS2, which takes effect on July 1.

USDA's report identifies numerous biomass feedstocks to be used in the development of biofuels and calls for the funding of further investments in research and development of various feedstocks; sustainable production and management systems; efficient conversion technologies and high-value bioproducts; and decision support and policy analysis tools. The report provides data on the significant impact the ethanol industry will have on job creation, with as many as 40 direct jobs and additional indirect jobs created with each 100-million-gallon ethanol facility built. In addition, the USDA outlines plans to adopt regional strategies that allow the siting of biorefineries in areas of economic distress through the leveraging of regional resources for transportation, labor, and feedstocks.

The roadmap cites sources of existing or planned biofuels capacity. For example, EPA's analysis projects that 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuels could come from current or already planned production capacity of corn starch ethanol. Of the remaining 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels needed to achieve the RFS2 targets, 16 billion gallons must come from advanced cellulosic biofuels that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60% relative to gasoline. Key to meeting the 36-billion-gallon-goal is establishing a sustainable biofuels economy to produce the 20 billion gallons of advanced biofuels needed.

USDA recognized that some regions have a comparative advantage over others. According to the USDA, the Southeast and Central-Eastern portions of the country could together produce more than 93% of the biofuels needed to meet the RFS2 targets. The Southeast, with its extended growing season, could produce nearly half of the biofuels needed. It and the Central-Eastern region, which stretches from North Dakota and Wisconsin south to Delaware and Virginia, both have abundant resources of biofuels crops such as perennial grasses, biomass sorghum, crop residues, soy beans and woody biomass. Infrastructure will also need improvements. Using models designed by DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that $12 billion in infrastructure improvements, particularly rail expansions, would be needed to sustain the growth in biofuels. See the USDA press release, the USDA biofuels report (PDF 799 KB), and the EPA’s final rule (PDF 1.75 MB). Download Adobe Reader.

University of Michigan Wins the American Solar Challenge

 

The University of Michigan again won a major U.S. solar car race, winning the 1,200-mile 2010 American Solar Challenge by crossing the finish line in Naperville, Illinois, on June 26 with an elapsed time of 28 hours and 14 minutes. The winners cruised in more than two hours ahead of the team from the University of Minnesota. A car from Germany finished third. Michigan has now won this event and its predecessors six times. Overall, 17 teams, including two teams from Canada and Taiwan, registered for the event. For the competition, students designed and built the vehicles, which rely on solar power that can be stored in batteries for use during cloudy days. After a series of qualifying events, the racing began under sunny skies on June 20 in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The winning entry from the Wolverine State weighed 700 pounds, with its carbon fiber body covered by Emcore solar cells and the solar-generated electricity stored in A123 lithium-ion-phosphate batteries to help power an in-wheel electric motor.

Previously known as Sunrayce, the American Solar Challenge is now sponsored by the Innovators Educational Foundation (IEF), a non-profit organization that was formed in the fall of 2009 to continue the tradition of solar car racing, which began in 1993. IEF also hosts the Formula Sun Grand Prix, a solar car track event. See the American Solar Challenge Web site and the Michigan solar car team Web site.

 

The summer solar racing season continues with a high-profile race for high school teams. The Hunt-Winston School Solar Car Challenge is set to begin on July 18 in Fort Worth, Texas. Racers head north through Oklahoma to Boulder, Colorado, for a planned July 25 finish. More than 20 teams from nine states registered for the event, which is designed to boost student interest in science and engineering. The gathering began in 1993 at the Winston School in Dallas, Texas. See the Hunt-Winston School Solar Car Challenge Web site.

Honda Announces Pricing at U.S. Dealers for CR-Z Hybrid Coupe

The new 2011 Honda CR-Z sport hybrid coupe will roll into U.S. dealers' showrooms on August 24, America Honda Motor Co. announced on June 22. The manufacturer's suggested retail price will be $19,200, and the company will add a destination and handling charge of $750. The two-passenger, gasoline-electric hybrid has a 1.5-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine with a 10-kilowatt Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system to supply power and efficiency. The CR-Z represents the sixth version of Honda's original IMA technology since the launch of the 2000 Insight, the first hybrid vehicle commercially available in North America. The electric motor assists in acceleration and acts as a generator during braking or coasting to capture kinetic energy that can recharge the 100.8-volt IMA nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The gasoline engine can automatically turn off during vehicle stops for greater efficiency. The i-VTEC system controls the opening and closing of one intake valve per cylinder to enhance combustion at low engine speeds.

The CR-Z's 6-speed manual transmission is a first for a mass-produced hybrid vehicle, according to Honda. The car's 3-mode drive system allows for Sport, Normal or Econ (Economy) driving modes. The Econ mode is designed to smooth throttle inputs, reduce the air conditioning system's impact on fuel consumption, and potentially activate idle stop sooner when coming to a stop, which is helpful in stop-and-go city driving. See the Honda press release and the CR-Z Web site.

Japan Successfully Deploys a Solar Sail in Space

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has successfully deployed a solar sail in outer space. While solar energy has successfully powered small cars and airplanes, nobody has yet managed to use the sun's energy to propel a spacecraft, although that goal is now within reach of JAXA. The agency's Small Solar Power Sail Demonstrator, or IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun), was launched on May 10 and passed its initial operation check on May 21. On June 3, the agency began deploying the solar sail, and on June 10, JAXA confirmed that the solar sail was successfully expanded.

 

The concept of a solar sail, which could use the pressure of sunlight to propel a spacecraft, has long been a dream of both scientists and science fiction writers. Though the concept is roughly 100 years old, IKAROS will be the first practical demonstration of the technology. The sail was deployed by spinning its cylindrical launch vehicle to 25 rotations per minute, then allowing angular momentum to spread the sail out from that central hub to form a square measuring about 35 feet on each side. The sail is made of an extremely thin, flexible plastic and includes thin-film solar cells on part of its surface to generate electricity. Over the next five months or so, JAXA will attempt to prove the technology by accelerating the craft and steering it toward Venus. See the JAXA press release and JAXA's IKAROS Web site.

Meanwhile, European engineers are aiming to set another first by flying a piloted solar-powered airplane through one day and one night. The Solar Impulse HB-SIA is scheduled to take off on the morning of July 1 on a flight that will continue until the morning of July 2. During the day, the aircraft will charge its lithium-polymer batteries, then increase the amount of available energy by climbing to an elevation of nearly 28,000 feet. During the night, the craft will run on battery power while slowly descending, greeting the morning at an elevation of just under 5,000 feet. The Solar Impulse HB-SIA is essentially a flying wing, with solar cells covering its entire 207-foot wingspan. The craft is made from carbon fiber composites and is powered by four propellers, each driven by a 7-kilowatt motor. The solar-powered aircraft is meant to test the flight characteristics and performance of the technology in preparation for a future craft that will be designed to fly around the world on solar power. See the Solar Impulse blog, the Web site, and a fact sheet on the Solar Impulse HB-SIA (PDF 1.3 MB). Download Adobe Reader.

Energy Connections

MIT Study: Natural Gas to Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Growing U.S. supplies of natural gas will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). An interim report on a two-year study of the future of natural gas concludes that highly efficient combined-cycle natural gas plants will replace older, inefficient coal plants. The MIT researchers found that conventional sources still offer significant global supplies of natural gas and that unconventional sources, such as gas shales, are rapidly expanding the resource base. Gas shales alone have boosted U.S. natural gas resources enough by an amount equal to 92 years of consumption at current rates of use, according to the study.

The MIT study estimated global recoverable natural gas resources at 16,200 trillion cubic feet, enough to last more than 160 years at current consumption rates. In part because of these ample supplies, natural gas consumption is expected to increase dramatically. Assuming that industrialized countries and large emerging economies adopt greenhouse gas emissions limits, natural gas will largely displace coal in the power-generation sector by 2050, according to the report. See the MIT press release and the interim report (4.9 MB). Download Adobe Reader.

This newsletter is funded by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and is also available on the EERE Web site. If you have questions or comments about this newsletter, please contact the editors, Kevin Eber and Ernie Tucker.

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©Just for Veterans-Green Energy Training

Updated- July 29, 2010

Ken Lindsay