Posted on December 8th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.
Posted on December 8th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.
Posted on December 7th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.
SANTIAGO, CHILE —
Mining companies in Chile, by far the world's largest copper producer, are examining their energy contracts to see whether they can renegotiate terms to incorporate now-cheaper renewable power, company sources say.
The mines, long reliant on coal and gas to power everything from milling to drilling, are inviting a broad range of wind and solar producers to major energy tenders for the first time.
The shift away from dirty energy in some ways reflects the unique situation of Chile, which has virtually no local gas or coal reserves, but a long, arid coastline amenable to wind and solar power.
But it is also a response to technology-driven declines in worldwide renewables prices, which at times are allowing clean-energy generators to undercut fossil fuel providers even in countries like Chile with no significant subsidies.
Companies like Spain's Acciona Energia and Ireland's Mainstream are set to benefit from the change. The moves could also imply major cost savings for Chile's copper industry, which spends around 20 percent of overhead on energy, according to Chile's mining industry body.
Traditional firms diversifying
Traditional power companies, however, such as Colbun, AES Corp.'s Latin American arm AES Gener, and Engie Energia Chile risk losing out, and are diversifying into renewables to remain competitive.
Until 2014, nearly all of the nation's public and private energy contracts went to gas, diesel, hydroelectric and coal generators.
Wind and solar firms slowly began submitting competitive bids for power contracts. By August of this year, they had scooped up around half of tendered energy in a massive, 12.3 terawatt government auction to supply Chile's public grid beginning in 2021.
The renewables firms undercut bids by traditional producers by more than 70 percent in some cases in that auction, catching the attention of Chile's mining companies — which consume about a third of the country's energy, but only get 8 percent from wind and solar.
"Industrial customers are reviewing their contracts, they are anticipating tenders, they are trying to seize the moment and take advantage of this buyer's market," said Juan Francisco MacKenna, one of Chile's leading energy project and regulation lawyers.
Some mines are paying well over $100 per megawatt-hour on their most expensive contracts, while wind producers have offered 24-hour power for prices as low as $38 on Chile's public grid.
State-owned copper giant Codelco, hit by slumping copper prices, is re-examining terms with energy providers as part of a wider contract review, Alvaro Aliaga, vice president of its northern division, told Reuters last month.
Others, including Antofagasta, are also looking to revise their energy contracts, some of which expire as late as the 2030s, said four sources familiar with the energy contracting strategy of Chile's largest mining companies.
Antofagasta declined to comment, but a document released by the company Monday noted that low prices at the public power auction implied energy cost savings.
Some contracts are more flexible than others, the four sources said, but the goal would be to make pre-expiration changes to cheaper renewables or pressure traditional suppliers to lower their prices.
The mining companies would most likely take advantage of scheduled renegotiation periods where they exist, they said.
Still, some energy negotiation professionals said arbitration procedures were a possibility for particularly rigid and long-term agreements. Upcoming energy auctions for new supply contracts, meanwhile, are expected to feature many more renewables players than in the past.
For instance, the Collahuasi copper mine, a joint venture of Anglo American and Glencore, recently launched a tender for a 1.2 terawatt energy auction.
Among those invited to bid, according to company and legal sources, are Spain's SolarPack, Mainstream and other foreign renewable providers, as well as traditional incumbents. The auction offers a novel solar-friendly daytime bloc, in which companies bid to provide energy only during daylight hours, one source with knowledge of the auction said.
Antofagasta will most likely launch an energy supply tender for a planned expansion of its Centinela mine next year, while Codelco will run one for a possible expansion at its Radomiro Tomic mine, two of the sources familiar with the energy contracting strategy of the companies said.
Traditional energy companies, in response, are moving toward renewables in an attempt to maintain their market share.
Engie Chile, majority owned by French natural gas and electricity supplier Engie, said in August that it would build 400 megawatts of solar capacity in Chile, and AES Gener CEO Javier Giorgio told Reuters the company was looking at incorporating renewables into coming mining bids.
"The company is going to pass from being strong in conventional energy to one that has a much more balanced mix between conventional and renewable energies," Giorgio said. "From our point of view, we're not willing to limit ourselves."
Posted on December 7th, 2016 in hydro by Spencer R.
Posted on December 7th, 2016 in wind by Spencer R.
Posted on December 7th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.
One of the biggest problems with renewable energy is the way supply and demand can fluctuate wildly. If the wind stops blowing or the sun goes down, renewable energy generation will grind to a halt even if people still need that electricity. Conversely, if electricity demand is low then all the energy produced by solar or wind is wasted.
The ideal solution would involve some way of storing excess electricity when it's not needed to use when production is low, but most solutions are too expensive or difficult to implement. One promising solution is hydrogen storage, and the University of California, Irvine just launched the first such project in the United States, paving the way for other universities or municipalities to do the same.
The project involves a technique called electrolysis, which uses electricity (in this case, electricity generated by the excess wind or solar power) to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen. The oxygen can be released into the atmosphere or used for other purposes, while the hydrogen is stored. The hydrogen can be compressed and injected into existing natural gas pipelines, where it is burned to generate electricity or heat. In this way, hydrogen acts as an efficient means of storing excess electricity generated by renewable sources.
The advantages of this system are that it uses existing infrastructure, so no new pipelines need to be installed. The process can also be easily scaled to meet changing needs.
The biggest downside of this technology is that injecting hydrogen into gas pipelines requires years of evaluation and testing, which limits the usefulness. Careful study is required for each individual implementation to ensure that the hydrogen can be injected safely.
With each successful hydrogen project, our knowledge of this technology increases and implementation becomes easier. Hopefully, the UCI project allows other areas of the country to start building their own hydrogen systems soon.
Posted on December 6th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
Life on earth largely depends on the conversion of light energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis by plants. However, absorption of excess sunlight can damage the complex machinery responsible for this process. Researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, have discovered how Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a mobile single-cell alga, activates the protection of its photosynthetic machinery. Their study, published in the journal PNAS, indicates that the receptors (UVR8) that detect ultraviolet rays induce the activation of a safety valve that allows dissipation of excess energy as heat. A second protective role is thus attributed to these receptors, whose ability to induce the production of an anti-UV 'sunscreen' had already been shown by the Geneva team.
The energy of the sun is converted by plants into chemical energy through photosynthesis in order to produce sugars to feed themselves. The first step of this process, which takes place in cell compartments called chloroplasts, is the capture of photons of light by chlorophyll. Although light is essential for plants, sun in excess can damage their photosynthetic machinery, thereby affecting their growth and productivity. To protect themselves, plants activate a protection mechanism when light is too intense, which involves a series of proteins capable of converting the surplus of energy into heat to be harmlessly dissipated.
Producing proteins that divert energy
"UV-B ultraviolet light is likely to cause the most damage to the photosynthetic machinery, and we wanted to know whether it is involved in activating protection mechanisms and, if so, how", say Michel Goldschmidt-Clermont and Roman Ulm, professors at the Department of Botany and Plant Biology of the UNIGE Faculty of Science. This work, conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Universities of Grenoble and of California, was carried out in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a single-cell mobile alga used as a model organism.
The team of Roman Ulm had discovered in 2011 the existence of a UV-B receptor, called UVR8, whose activation allows plants to protect themselves against these UV and to develop their own molecular 'sunscreen". The researchers demonstrate now that this receptor activates a second protection mechanism. "When UVR8 perceives UV-B rays, it triggers a signal that induces, at the level of the cell nucleus, the production of proteins that will then be imported into the chloroplasts. Once integrated into the photosynthetic apparatus, they will help to divert excess energy, which will be dissipated as heat through molecular vibrations", explains Guillaume Allorent, first author of the article.
In terrestrial plants, the perception of UV-B by the UVR8 receptor is also important for the protection of the photosynthetic machinery, but the underlying mechanism has not yet been elucidated. "It is crucial for agricultural productivity and the biotechnological exploitation of photosynthetic processes to better understand the mechanisms leading to photoprotection under sunlight and its UV-B rays", says Michel Goldschmidt-Clermont. A project the Genevan team intends to pursue.
Posted on December 6th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.
Posted on December 6th, 2016 in wind by Spencer R.
The installation of the foundations for a wind farm in the Baltic Sea can begin now that the area is clear of the remnants of war, a German company said.
German energy company E.ON and Norwegian oil and gas firm Statoil are planning the construction of the Arkona wind farm in the German waters of the Baltic Sea. After four months, the companies said the area was cleared of explosive ordnance left over from the major wars of the 20th century.
"The construction site ... is now completely free of remains from the time of the Cold War as well as World Wars I and II," the German company said. "The installation of the foundations for the Arkona offshore wind farm in the German Baltic Sea can be securely started in 2017 as planned."
Hundreds of thousands of mines and other munitions were strewn along the sea bed in what is one of the most densely mined waters in the world. The consortium behind the twin Nord Stream natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea to the German coast cleared the area of the remnants of war two years before construction began.
E.ON plans to invest at least $1.3 billion in developing the Arkona wind energy project and is the first company of its kind tapped to operate wind farms in the German waters of both the North and Baltic seas.
For Statoil, the company last year set a path toward investing in up to $200 million in renewable energy by buying into startups targeting opportunities in wind power, energy storage, smart grids and other energy-related technology.
The offshore Arkona project will be situated more than 20 miles off the German coast and generate enough power at peak capacity to meet the energy needs of 400,000 average households. Once completed, the wind farm will save more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, every year.
Posted on December 5th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.
When it comes to discussions about renewable energy, solar and wind power often take center stage. To a lesser degree, other forms like geothermal energy and hydropower also get some attention. But many people may not be aware that there are many other sources of renewable energy currently in use around the world, all helping to counterbalance the enormous carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. Small projects are turning to dirt and microbes, underground stores of liquid magma and even pedestrian footsteps to harvest energy that would otherwise be wasted. While none of these efforts alone can save the planet, the continued research and development to increase their efficacy may eventually help entire communities eschew fossil fuels without sacrificing much-needed electricity for light, safety, warmth and medical care.
Posted on December 5th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.
One of the biggest challenges to wider adoption of wind and solar power is how to store the excess energy they often produce.
A technology developed at the University of Chicago, and now being commercialized by a University startup, is addressing the intermittent nature of these renewable sources. It uses a selectively evolved, unicellular microorganism that helps convert electricity into methane gas. That gas can be stored, transported and used wherever natural gas is used, including for the generation of power on demand.
Laurens Mets, associate professor of molecular genetics and cell biology, began developing the technology in the late 1990s. From it, the startup Electrochaea was born with support from the University's technology transfer office, which is now part of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
"Direct scaling at this pace and scale is rare in the energy field," Mets said. "But we found this technology to be eminently scalable, so I'm very confident about its commercialization."
Electrochaea was selected for the 2014 Global Cleantech 100—a list of 100 private companies with the greatest potential to solve the clean energy crisis according to the market intelligence firm Cleantech Group. It has experienced a string of successes, including a large-scale demonstration facility that delivers methane to Denmark's pipeline grid and a commercial-scale plant announced in October to be built in Hungary.
"The disruptive energy storage technology developed by Dr. Mets in his lab has been validated by Electrochaea and is now being shown to scale in a commercially meaningful way," said Cristianne Frazier, senior project manager of technology commercialization and licensing at the Polsky Center.
Electricity into methane
At the center of the power-to-gas technology is a strain of methanogenic Archaea—a microorganism that Mets adapted for industrial use.
The process starts with surplus electricity that is coming from a wind farm or solar array, but isn't needed immediately. That power is used to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is combined with waste carbon dioxide from any of a variety of sources, such as a biogas or an industrial process, in a proprietary bioreactor in which the microorganisms efficiently catalyze conversion of the mixture into methane and water.
The resulting methane can be transported in existing pipelines or converted into compressed natural gas or liquid natural gas, making it available to generate electricity. The technology offers a large carrying capacity—more than competing bulk-energy storage systems, such as batteries, pumped hydroelectric and compressed air, according to Mets.
The technology enables increased use of variable electricity sources such as wind and solar by storing excess power, thus smoothing out the variability and making renewables more feasible and economically viable.
The carbon dioxide produced by burning the methane product of the process was waste from its original source and would have been released into the atmosphere in any case. The power-to-gas technology is thus carbon-neutral in its primary impact on the environment. It has the additional important impact of displacing net carbon emissions from burning of fossil fuels for energy generation with energy derived from renewable wind and solar sources.
The potential of the patented power-to-gas technology is significant, according to Seth Snyder, leader of the Water-Energy-Sustainability Initiative at the Argonne National Laboratory. "Methane could be the primary source for much of society's energy needs including electricity, heating, industrial processes and transportation," he said. "Therefore a robust way to create clean methane from renewable sources has the potential to transform our energy systems."
Mets continues his research at the University and aims to refine the novel technology. He hopes to adapt it to produce gasoline and jet fuel.
"What's so interesting is that Electrochaea is demonstrating that a very fundamental process in nature can be harnessed and adapted to address an immediate societal challenge," Snyder said. "If done correctly, the benefits could be significant in Europe and Asia."
Company develops technology
The links between the company and the University are numerous. The University recognized the importance of Met's discoveries early on and filed several families of patent applications that would be licensed to Electrochaea and become central to the startup's intellectual property portfolio.
"The technology commercialization and licensing team at the Polsky Center, Electrochaea and Dr. Mets have worked collaboratively on everything from company formation and technology development to Series A financing and patent prosecution, and I believe those relationships have helped foster a successful company," Frazier said.
Created in 2006, Electrochaea first validated the process in its laboratory in St. Louis. It began field testing Mets' power-to-gas technology in 2011. Three years later, Electrochaea started constructing a large-scale demonstration facility at a wastewater treatment plant outside Copenhagen, with the treatment plant providing the waste carbon dioxide used in the conversion process. Based on the success of that project, which is called BioCat and went live in June, Electrochaea is building a 10-megawatt plant in Hungary that will be the world's first commercial-scale power-to-gas plant.
"Electrochaea ramped up very quickly, with several steps, from the one-liter reactor in my lab at the University, through the one-megawatt BioCat project and now the 10-megawatt commercial plant in Hungary. The microbes have proven to be very robust," Mets said.
The Hungarian plant will be built by Electrochaea and Magyar Villamos Muvek, that country's largest energy provider. As with BioCat, the new plant will provide methane directly to the existing system of natural gas pipelines.
Electrochaea plans to build an additional plant in Switzerland and envisions plants with up to 1,000 megawatts of capacity. Meanwhile, Pacific Gas and Electric Company is building a small demonstration plant at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado.