“Prize” Money For Fuel Cells

Last Friday saw The Carbon Trust in the U.K. announce they are going to offer “prizes” or more appropriately investments into three novel ideas with up to up to £1 million per project to further develop and prove them.  If any one of those demonstrates its potential for lower cost fuel cell systems, the Carbon Trust will then co-invest up to £5 million in the technology to develop it commercially.  That’s serious money, £5 million is nearly $8 million U.S. dollars at today’s exchange rate.

The call for proposals opened Friday October 9, 2009 at carbontrust.co.uk/fuelcells.

The fuel cell market is stuck on production costs.  Fuel cells are already marketed around the world, with sales growing at over 60% a year – they are used to power forklift trucks, mobile phone masts or provide power in camper vans. However, they currently remain too expensive to be more widespread.  Current fuel cell system costs are still too high by a factor of at least ten for widespread uses. These costs could be brought down in the future through volume production, but projections show that even then, with today’s technology, costs would remain too high by 30-40% for most markets.

The initiative aims to deliver the critical reduction in fuel cell system costs that must be achieved to make mass-market deployment a reality. The Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge will aim to support those breakthroughs that will allow high-volume costs to come down by 35%, making fuel cell systems attractive for mass markets.  New Carbon Trust analysis shows that if substantial cuts can be achieved, the global market could be worth over $26 billion in 2020 and over $180 billion in 2050. The UK share of this market could be $1billion in 2020 rising to $19 billion in 2050.

Simply put, fuel cells efficiently convert the chemical energy contained in a fuel directly into electricity – they produce electricity like a battery but are fuelled like an engine or a boiler.  The Brits aim to accelerate the commercialization of breakthrough U.K. technology that could see the mainstream cost effective mass production of fuel cell powered cars and buses, as well as providing electricity and heat in homes and business. These kinds of mass-market applications could be saving the U.K. up to 7 million metric tons of CO2 a year in 2050, equivalent to taking two million of today’s cars off the road.

Dr Robert Trezona, Head of Research and Development at the Carbon Trust, says in launching the initiative, “Fuel cells have been ten years away from a real breakthrough for the past 20 years. This is a critical moment for U.K. fuel cell technology as emerging markets combine with technology cost breakthroughs to create a golden opportunity to launch world-beating products onto a massive global market.  Our initiative aims to drive forward the commercialization of the U.K.’s unique fuel cell expertise which will play a crucial role in the U.K.’s Clean Tech Revolution both cutting carbon and creating jobs and economic value.”

David Hart, Head of Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research, Centre for Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College, said: “For many years fuel cell and hydrogen technologies have been expected to become a cornerstone of a low-carbon, more efficient energy system, but the cost, durability and performance of current fuel cell systems remain unattractive in most applications. The Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge is an exciting opportunity to address these issues with a fresh perspective and coordinated approach to make polymer fuel cells an everyday commercial reality.”

Celia Greaves, at the private advocacy firm Fuel Cells UK, said: “We warmly welcome the Carbon Trust’s new Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge. The U.K. is home to a number of world-class fuel cell companies and research centers, and substantive intellectual property has already been created in this area. Initiatives such as this from the Carbon Trust are vital to strengthening the UK’s position and ensuring that the UK is innovative and remains competitive in this growing global industry.”

The Carbon Trust is focusing on polymer fuel cells for three reasons:

1.    They can be used in many different products, including all the applications with a strong prospect for carbon savings (cars, buses, combined heat and power).
2.    The horizontal structure of the polymer fuel cell supply chain allows the development of new businesses to market component technologies rather than requiring the development of completely new systems; and
3.    There is capacity and appetite from the U.K. research and industry community to deliver breakthrough polymer fuel cell technologies, which the Carbon Trust has confirmed with extensive recent engagement.

The Carbon Trust is an independent company set up in 2001 by the U.K. government in response to the threat of climate change, to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy by working with organizations to reduce carbon emissions and develop commercial low carbon technologies.

The newest fuel cells can cold start just as well as an internal combustion engine. Fourth generation General Motors fuel cells were lasting 80k miles and the 5th generation is expected to start at 120k miles and improve on from there.  That seems good, but as the economy shows now, 120k mileage is still a youthful automobile.

It’s a near sure thing the “competition” is closed to other than U.K. organizations. But that’s not the point, it’s that serious money is willing to get on with the newest and most efficient means to use fuels and transition the fuel energy into work.  Any breakthrough will be instructive worldwide.  But a head start, which is the fundamental aspect of the challenge, is what matters.  Getting cheaper fuel cells across a range of fuel candidates would be a national boon wherever it happens first.  Coming up with light carbon fuels is much easier than many thought a few years ago, and the potential from bio sourced methane and methanol up to ethane and ethanol are stunning.

It’s a ways off to say 300 thousand U.S. miles, a cost comparison with and internal combustion engine and drive sets, and sure fuel supplies with convenient availability.  But even a pure hydrogen fuel cell would be worthwhile in many circumstances.

The risk in this is in the picking.  As you’ll note, the Carbon Trust is a government creature and they’re doing what such creatures do – trying to choose a winner.  Maybe they will catch a good one, maybe not.  But the cash flow will help everyone to some extent and might evoke a privateer somewhere in the world to a breakthrough.  Let’s hope its sooner than later.

The original post: New Energy and Fuel

Home Windmill, Solar Energy System or Magnet Generator – How To Decide Which Is Best For You

There are literally thousands of topics on the internet today covering the vast subject of renewable home energy technologies. This is fuelled mostly by the current energy crisis that is affecting countries across the world and we are all actively encouraged to explore new ways to provide home energy. So, how do we decide which is best for us?

There is a vast amount of information out there based on installing a solar energy system or a home windmill and even information on building a magnetic generator. This is in many ways very justified as all 3 are all viable and long term renewable energy sources for homes, which are readily available to everyone.

However, much of the information can be confusing and often misleading which just adds to the problem when you are already unsure about what option to explore further, so how do you decide what is best for you. How do you know what to choose and what to avoid and where do you start with the whole process?

Firstly, you need to weigh up the pros and cons of each of the 3 best options. I cannot decide these for you as it will all depend on the type of property you live in and location, size of property and current electrical consumption can all be big influencing factors. That said, there are still certain questions which you need to ask yourself no matter what:

  1. How much electricity do I use at the moment?
  2. How big is my property?
  3. Do I want to go completely off grid?
  4. Do I want solar roof panels on my property / do I want a home windmill in my back garden?
  5. Do I want the cheapest option or am I prepared to invest a few dollars extra?

Question 1, 2 and 3 are important to know because if you can accurately gauge current electrical consumption, then you will know how big to build your energy generating unit.  Also do you want to go completely off grid or simply supplement your existing supply to help save a few dollars?

Question 4 is also important as some people are put off by having a home windmill in their back garden as they feel it may not be very pleasant to look at. The same may sometimes be said for solar roof panels.

Question 5 is one of the most common influencing factors when seeking renewable home energy sources. Many people believe that any one of these 3 options are likely to be highly expensive and out of reach of the average home owner, but this is simply not the case. Much depends on which one you choose and how big you intend to build but for example, did you know that can actually build your own home windmill for less than $120!

These questions are just for starters and depending on your own individual needs, there will be other factors which influence your decision. I would highly recommend you carry out further research on these great home energy generating options so that you can see exactly what is involved, how much it will cost and how to get started.

Making your own home windmill, solar energy system or Magnet Generator, can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience and there has never been a better time to start. You could save hundreds off your electric bills and let’s not also forget the great benefits clean energy has on the environment you live in!

If you decide to build your own Solar Wind Power, you will have a satisfying and rewarding experience provided you follow instructions which have been written by the experts.

Instructions should be well structured, clear and organized and you should have access to help if you should need it.

I have reviewed the best guide available on the market today which is the clear leader in the alternative home energy market. This quality guide is available with FREE bonuses ready for you to Take Advantage Now…

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Increased Profitability for “Main St.” Integrators

As a “Main St.” integrator you can increase profitability by taking advantage of many free services available from Home Controls. 

One savvy move is utilizing  pre-designed systems.  By cutting costly design time, you gain flexibility in your business model.  Increase profit, or make home automation even more affordable for your clients. 

Set yourself up for ready-made repeat customers by providing a single system, such as distributed audio, to fit their immediate need.  Then let them know you can add additional systems to increasingly tech-out their home as their budget allows.  

This may sound scary, but it’s really simple if you’re using fully integrated pre-designed systems.  Without the time consuming task of laying out every single system, you know all products and systems will work together.   

It’s all there in the design…fool proof.

Source: Home Controls

The Lithium Air Battery Race

IBM has made a major splash in the battery industry with their announcement that the company is going to research lithium air battery technology. They are a little further along than the press and media are allowing.  IBM plans to get a jump on the process by using its nano membrane technology developed for water-purification systems to separate water and other elements from the oxygen in air. They will use their nano-structure expertise developed for the semiconductor industry to help distribute oxygen evenly around the interior of the battery cells – preventing blockages. Supercomputing will be used to model techniques for moving individual atoms through the membranes.

The race is on because lithium air batteries approach the energy density of fuel cells without the plumbing and carrying the fuel needed for these devices; in theory, the maximum energy density is more than 5,000 watt-hours per kilogram, or more than 10 times that of today’s lithium-ion batteries. Lithium air batteries are also very lightweight because it’s not necessary to carry a second reactant.

Lithium Air Battery Activity Flow Chart. Click image for the largest view.

Lithium Air Battery Activity Flow Chart. Click image for the largest view.

The main problem with using lithium metal as a battery electrode is the material reacts rapidly and violently with water. Lithium air batteries have been considered for decades, but there’s always water in the air. Exposure to even traces of water rapidly degrades the material.  Lithium air batteries are unique in that instead of being a sealed system, they use atmospheric oxygen, essentially harnessing the oxygen in the air as the cathode of the battery. Since oxygen enters the battery on demand, it offers an essentially unlimited amount of reactant, metered only by the surface area of its electrodes.

That violent reaction with water has consequences.  About 20 years ago the Canadian company Moli Energy recalled its rechargeable lithium-metal batteries, which used not air but a more traditional cathode, after one caught fire; the incident led to legal action, and the company declared bankruptcy.  That was a very cold water splash.

Until the IBM announcement only a handful of labs around the world, including those at PolyPlus Battery in Berkeley, CA, Japan’s AIST and St. Andrews University, in Scotland, have been working on lithium air batteries.  Since the IBM announcement news leaked that Toyota recently began looking into lithium air technology. Its not any kind of secret that General Electric is investing $150 million over five years to develop massive sodium batteries for use in locomotives and electrical grids. It has also made an equity investment in A123, a small company that supplies lithium-ion batteries for plug-in electric vehicles.

But IBM will partner with Oak Ridge, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Argonne, and Pacific Northwest national labs. The company and its collaborators are currently working on a proposal for funding from the U.S. Department of Energy under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy bringing a very large and diverse set of intellects to the race.

Along with the water plus lithium violence potential there are two other problems. First, the design of the cathode needs to be optimized so that the lithium oxide that forms when oxygen is pulled inside the battery won’t block the oxygen intake channels. Second, better catalysts are needed to drive the reverse reaction that recharges the battery.

Recharging also has safety issues.  When lithium air batteries are charged and discharged, there is an electroplating and then stripping of the metal over and over again in each cycle. Over time, just as in a lithium ion battery, the lithium air surface becomes rough, which can lead to thermal runaway, when the battery literally burns until all the reactants inside are used up.  The savior in that is the lithium air construction would limit incoming air making such a heat buildup impossible without cracking open the battery case.

IBM is pursuing the risky technology attempt instead of lithium-ion batteries because it has the potential to reach high enough energy densities to change the transportation system.  IBM Almaden Research Center’s manager of science and technology Chandrasekhar Narayan said, “With all foreseeable developments, lithium-ion batteries are only going to get about two times better than they are today.  To really make an impact on transportation and on the grid, you need higher energy density than that.”

The motivator is a goal, a lightweight 500-mile battery for a family car.  The Chevy Volt has only 40 miles on board and the Tesla can get to 300 miles before recharging.  The room for growth is virtually the entire personal transport market, worldwide.
The U.S. also has another concern. IBM is also eager to reclaim U.S. leadership in battery tech from Asia. While many of the original breakthroughs for the batteries that power today’s laptop computers and cell phones happened in the U.S., those batteries now come primarily from Japan and Korea.

Industry leaders have called for just this kind of concerted effort amid concern that the U.S. will miss out on one of the most important technology shifts in history—the switch from gasoline to electricity as the primary power source for light vehicles. The worry is that the U.S. will trade its current dependency on the Middle East for oil with a new dependency on Asia for vehicle batteries. “We lost control of battery technology in the 1970s,” laments Andy Grove, former chairman of chip giant Intel. “Battery technology will define the future, and if we don’t act quickly it will go to China and Japan.”

The race is on.  Major players in industry and science are on board.  The problems to start with are well known.  Experience in other fields might bring solutions.  That electric drive for personal transport looks more likely each time the news is checked.  Storage for intermittent grid generation is getting answered as well.   Batteries are getting more interesting than seen in decades with idled ideas getting new life from connections with other technologies.  It’s a major race, indeed.

Post written by: New Energy and Fuel