Archive for December 2010
You are browsing the archives of 2010 December.
You are browsing the archives of 2010 December.
The DOE announced the finalization of a $17.1 million loan guarantee for AES Westover’s energy storage facility in N.Y. A123 Systems will supply advanced Li-ion battery cells for a 20 MW energy storage system.
“The AES project helps reduce carbon emissions and strengthens our energy infrastructure by allowing for more renewable energy sources like solar and wind to contribute to the electrical grid,” says Secretary Chu.
According to the DOE press release, this venture will reduce carbon emissions by 70 percent compared to frequency regulation provided by fossil energy suppliers. The project eliminates the need to burn fossil fuels and instead uses battery technology.
The release goes on to say that the DOE has issued loan guarantees to support 16 clean energy projects totaling nearly $16.5 billion. Together, the projects will produce over 37 million megawatt-hours, enough clean energy to power over 3.3 million homes.
The guarantee has been in the works for some time, having first been announced in August.
A recent paper by a group of researchers working in the U.S. and China discusses the creation of a supercapacitor whose electrodes are prepared from curvy, single-layer graphene sheets, a method that yields remarkable energy densities. Their work appears in a recent issue of Nano Letters.
A major problem with current supercapacitors in electric vehicle applications is their low energy density compared to batteries. A good supercapacitor might have an energy density of 10 Wh/kg compared to 170 Wh/kg for good lithium-ion batteries or even 35 Wh/kg for a lead-acid battery. On the other hand, the batteries have long recharging times.
The researchers, who are connected with Nanotek Instruments, Angstrom Materials (a spin-off of Nanotek) and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Dalian University of Technology, basically use an approach based on electrical double-layer capacitance that leverages the intrinsic high surface area and capacitance of graphene plus the higher voltages that are possible through the use of ionic liquid electrolytes. Heretofore, EDL capacitors typically have used activated carbon as a high surface area electrode material.
Ordinary single graphene sheets obviously have surfaces that are easy to put in contact with an electrolyte. The problem is that when one is dealing with a bunch of ordinary graphene sheets, they tend to restack themselves. When this occurs, the intergraphene pore sizes greatly limit the accessibility to the electroyte.
This group apparently has gotten around the restacking problem by finding a way – few details are provided - of giving the graphene sheets curves. In brief, they say they use a modified Hummers method to form graphene oxide. Then:
“The suspension was injected into a forced convention oven in which a stream of compressed air was introduced to produce a fluidized-bed situation. Upon removal of the solvent or liquid, we obtained the desired curved graphene sheets.”
This morphology causes the sheets to resist stacking during packing and compression into an electrode structure. They say their method maintains a pore size in the range of 2–25 nm.
So, by making coin-sized capacitor cells using the curved graphene and 1-ethyl-3-methlyimidazolium tetraflouroborate (EMIMBF4), they were able to achieve energy densitites of 85.6 Wh/kg at room temperature and 136 WH/kg at 80°C, measured at a current density of 1 A/g.
These energy densities are comparable to nickel metal hydride batteries — with an important difference: They can be charged or discharged rapidly.
Greentech Media has published a year-end list of profitable and unprofitable fuel cell firms. The real kicker is that the “profitable” list contains no entries.
Taken directly from Greentech Media’s list:
FuelCell Energy (Nasdaq:FCEL) reported revenue of $69.8 million in 2010 compared to $88.0 million for the comparable prior year. Net loss for the year was $58.9 million. FuelCell Energy builds molten carbonate stationary fuel cell power plants located at wastewater treatment facilities, universities, pump stations and other sites that need low-emission baseload distributed generation.
Australian firm, Ceramic Fuel Cells builds SOFC-based small-scale on-site micro combined heat and power (CHP) and distributed generation units. The AIM and ASX-listed firm lost about $19 million in the year ending June 2010 on sales of $2 million. The company has some sales activity in Europe.
Canadian-based Ballard Power Systems produced its one-millionth membrane-electrode assembly (MEA) this year, certainly a milestone in the commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell technology. The MEA is the core component of its proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell and Ballard has seen a 30 percent annual reduction in the cost of its fuel cell products over the past two years.
Ballard lost $3.3 million on 2009 sales of $46.7 million at a 5.9 percent gross margin. Ballard has a range of fuel cell products including systems and components for residential cogen, distributed generation and backup power. The pioneering firm has been developing proton exchange membrane-based fuel cells and losing money since 1983.
Plug Power (NASDAQ:PLUG), facing a Nasdaq delisting, lost $19.5 million in the second quarter of this year and $9.3 million on revenue of $5.8 million in the third quarter. The company is now focusing its PEM fuel cells on the materials handling market (in other words: forklifts). Oorja Protonics is also targeting this market.
Every fuel cell startup from MTI (recently de-listed from Nasdaq) to Protonex (recently de-listed from the AIM) all the way to multi-nationals like Toshiba have promised commercial fuel cell product for decades, but few have managed to reach commercialization, let alone profitability.
The list continues with fuel cell manufacturers of portable power units, stationary power units and “other” fuel cell firms.
Here’s to hoping 2011 brings these manufacturers some profitability.
Chinese rare earth exports, 2009-2011, in metric tons:
|| &NBSP;2009/H1:||21,728 tons||||| 2010/H1:||22,282 tons||||| 2011/H1:||14,446 tons|
|| &NBSP;2009/H2:||28,417 tons||2010/H2:||7,976 tons||| 2011/H2:||?|
|Total:||50,145 tons||30,258 tons||?|
First the good news: China appears to be increasing rare earth export quotas for the first half of 2011 - compared to the second half of 2010 – by over 80%. The bad news: The new quotas represent a 35% drop compared to the same period in 2010, and a 33% drop compared to the first half of 2009.
In other words, the short term may be a small improvement over the previous six months, but nevertheless a change that is not inconsistent with recent declines in the output of rare earth elements from China.
Where China ultimately is going with these REE quotas in 2011 isn’t clear, nor does recent history provide any clear cut guide. For example, quotas in 2009/H2 actually increased by 31% over 2009/H1 (28,417 metric tons versus 21,728 tons, for a year total of 50,145 tons).
On the other hand, one of the writers at the Rare Metal Blog took the “glass half full” approach with the story, “China INCREASES export quota by 82%” (emphasis in the original).
Traders on some stock exchanges thought they could read China’s mind and early in the day share in U.S. mining company Molycorp shot up by about 12% compared to the previous day’s closing price.
But, according to a New York Times story posted this afternoon (with accurate numbers), China apparently wants to head off some of the gloom:
“In what seemed to be an effort to reassure traders and users of rare earths, the commerce ministry said in a follow-up statement late Tuesday on its Web site that it had not decided what the total export quotas would be for all of 2011 … The ministry said on Tuesday night that companies should not make guesses about the total export quotas for next year based on the initial reductions issued earlier in the day.
“We will be considering the production of rare earths in China, domestic demand and sustainable development needs to determine” the full quotas for the entire year, the ministry Web site quoted its foreign trade department director as saying, without naming the director.”
Apparently the reassurance worked: Molycorp’s closing stock price was a decline of 6%
Although some speculate about economic and business decisions are behind these moves, Chinese officials have recently been saying that environmental concerns are a factor in making quota decisions. Again, from the NYT:
“Until a few months ago, Chinese officials said that their rare earth policies were aimed at forcing foreign industries to move high-tech factories to China so as to have access to Chinese rare earths. But as trade frictions have increased, they have given greater emphasis to environmental concerns.
A Chinese official said on Tuesday that pollution worries about rare earth mining were sincere.
‘The government is paying more attention to environmental protection, and is retiring older facilities and older technologies,’ said the official, who insisted on anonymity because of the political implications of rare earth policies, and declined to discuss specifics of the quotas.’
According to a NPR report, Tesla Motors shares dropped a dramatic 15 percent on Monday. Yesterday was the first day company insiders and early investors were allowed to sell their shares after the company went public in June.
The stock’s decline was a surprising reversal for Tesla, which enjoyed a positive initial period as a public company. According to a report on TradingMarkets.com, in the six months since its IPO, Tesla’s stock had more than doubled in price amid rising expectations and high-profile deals.
I reported in June that Toyota purchased $50 million in Tesla stock when the two companies teamed up to develop electric cars that run solely on Li-ion batteries. Tesla also received high acclaim when it unveiled it’s new battery pack for its latest model, the Model S sedan.
After the sell-off, the company’s shares settled at $25.55, which is a 15 percent decline as investors traded 9.3 million shares.