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Here is what we are hearing:
(GigaOm) Liquid Metal Battery, a startup developing a battery for the power grid that already counted Bill Gates and oil giant Total as an investor, has now brought on another high profile backer: Khosla Ventures. The startup, which is the brainchild of MIT Professor Donald Sadoway and is based in Cambridge, plans to announce on Thursday that it has raised a Series B round of $15 million led by Khosla Ventures. Liquid Metal Battery is developing a battery for the power grid using molten salt sandwiched between two layers of liquid metal. The battery is still at least two years from commercialization, and the team has built a 16-inch prototype, though they might later scale that up to 36 inches. The company is betting that a battery based on liquid metal electrodes will be stable, scalable, and low cost enough that it could revolutionize grid storage.
Testament to its leadership in sustainability and environment-friendly business operations, the
ASEAN conglomerate Siam Cement Group, has received a gold rating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Building: Operations & Maintenance for its corporate headquarters. Moreover, highlighting its continued commitment to forwarding green operations in the Philippines with its subsidiary, Mariwasa Siam Ceramics, the Conglomerate has increased its stake in MSC from 46% to 83c. The conglomerate’s headquarters was recently renovated to be more energy-efficient and environment friendly. For their efforts, SCG won the Thai Energy Award in the retrofitted building category, and was also the first runner-up in the same category at the Asean Best Practice for Energy Efficient Building Awards in 2011.
Filtersfast.com, an authoritative resource for consumers regarding the importance of changing residential and commercial air filters and water filters, is a supplier of Doulton eco-friendly, reusable cartridge filters. Providing safe, healthy, great-tasting drinking water wherever and whenever you need it is the basic principle behind Doulton products. Fairey Industrial Ceramics Ltd. is the sole manufacturer of the world famous range of Doulton ceramic drinking water filters. Millions of Doulton ceramic filter candles are produced annually, which sells to 140 countries worldwide. Their global success is due to the versatility of the products by producing clean, healthy, great tasting water, at anytime and anywhere. Installing a home filtration system offers a greener and cost effective solution to having good quality drinking water. Bottled water is expensive to buy and produces a lot of plastic waste that is not an eco-friendly alternative. Whether a filter unit is needed underneath the kitchen sink, on the countertop, mounted on a wall or in the back of a water cooler, Doulton provides drinking water solutions for practically every situation.
Washington Mills has expanded its aluminum oxide recycling services for spent aluminum oxide blasting grit. Improvements have been made that allow Washington Mills to recycle higher volumes of dust and finer spent aluminum oxide blasting grit and powder than ever before. The previous system limited the amount of very fine material that could be recycled, but new developments have eliminated the grit size restrictions. Washington Mills recycles spent aluminum oxide blasting grain in a completely closed loop recycling system by utilizing its unique furnace technology. It recycles 100 percent of the material in a totally closed loop process that leaves no waste. Washington Mills offers companies holding spent blasting grain an environmentally friendly and cost effective way of getting rid of 100 percent of their spent grit that avoids landfill costs.
Morgan Technical Ceramics proudly announced the 50th anniversary of its Auburn, Calif., site, which has grown from its humble beginnings in a garage to become a key supplier of engineered structural ceramic components used in the medical instrument, analytical equipment, power generation and aerospace markets. MTC Auburn is renowned for its ability to work with customers to develop and produce technically challenging parts, and for its outstanding customer service. Operations began in 1962 as R&W products, founded by Will Rogers and Bob Wire in a garage in Redwood City, California. Growing rapidly, the firm moved to the foothills of the Sierras in 1978, becoming the first high-technology company in Auburn. It was later purchased by Carpenter Technology, a US-based specialty alloy company. In 2008, the company was acquired by the Morgan Crucible Company Plc. and became a part of its Morgan Technical Ceramics business. The Auburn site has continued to expand its production of custom-made, high-precision ceramic components. The vertically integrated Auburn facility provides complete solutions to its customers, beginning with green machining and firing materials in-house and carrying the process through to the finished product, which could be a metalized product or a brazed assembly.
Gas hydrates are an important, and growing area of research for widely different applications from flow assurance - especially when considering deep off shore exploration—methane recovery from large hydrate deposits and of course for storage and transportation of gases by creation of the such hydrates. Traditional techniques are severely restricted by sample nature, in particular the presence of particles or fines and calorimetry is becoming an ever more important technique. Calorimetry has been used on hydrates for a while, however with the development of a range of Calvet sensors Setaram has enabled the simulation of pressures up to 1000 bar, the use of truly representative samples and in some cases a bench top system that can be used in the field. Setaram presents a new free of charge applications summary, detailing important experimental parameters and some of the experiments produced in the field today.
Asahi Glass Co. announced it is releaseing Leoflex, a newly-developed chemically strengthened glass, on June 1. Leoflex is stronger than conventional soda-lime glass and is resistant to cracking, even with its reduced thickness, which will enable us to significantly reduce the weight of glass. With Leoflex, AGC will respond to the need for more lightweight glass of all sizes in a wide range of applications such as solar panels, building materials, and lighting. AGC has been supplying soda-lime glass in various markets such as construction, automobile, solar power generation. AGC will capitalize on its understanding of the needs and technical expertise in these markets and promote the use of the Leoflex specialty glass that enables weight reduction across a wide range of applications, such as solar panels, building materials, and lighting.
Brookfield Engineering Laboratories offers the TA-FSF Film Support Fixture for their CT3 Texture Tester. The Film Support Fixture is designed to test the rupture strength, resilience and relaxation properties of thin films and other similar products. Brookfield’s TexturePro CT software, when used with the CT3 Tester, enables the operator to automate test procedures and generate valuable data for analyzing the strength of film products. CT3 Tester is the best value in a stand-alone instrument for physical testing. It combines simplicity of operation with expanded test-method capability and operates in both compression and tension modes. A wide variety of standard probes, (cones, cylinders, blades, balls, punches) and fixtures (extrusion cell, shear cell, grips, etc.) are available for a multitude of applications.
New experimental data from Freeman Technology demonstrate how dynamic, shear and bulk powder testing can be applied to quantify the impact of humidity on powder behaviour, supporting the need to develop effective strategies for moisture control and process optimization. “Quantifying the impact of humidity on powder properties,” by Brian Armstrong (Powder Technologist) and Jamie Clayton (Operations Manager), Freeman Technology, is now available for download at the company website. Of the many factors that influence powder behaviour, moisture, or humidity, is perhaps one of the most instantly recognised and potentially one of the most problematic. Adding even small amounts of water to a powder can transform its properties. The challenge for formulators and process engineers is to understand the extent to which a powder will take up moisture and, more importantly, how this will affect the powder and its performance. The new white paper explores the impact of humidity through the application of dynamic, shear and bulk property testing using Freeman Technology’s FT4 Powder Rheometer. Together these techniques reliably quantify how powder behaviour changes as a result of moisture uptake, providing the comprehensive insight needed to develop effective strategies for moisture control and process optimization.
Turns out, Bill Gates was right.
A few weeks ago we told you about an interview Gates did at the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference. One of Gates’ points was that subsidies to support alternative energy technologies is not sustainable. Instead, he’d like to see the money go into R&D to make the new technologies efficient and independently sustainable. At present, he said only 2 percent of government funding is going to R&D, with the rest going into subsidies and tax credits.
This week, we got an indication of how energy subsidies impact the fortunes of companies, and what happens when they end.
According to a story in yesterday’s Toledo Blade, First Solar (Tempe, Ariz.) announced it is reducing its workforce by 30 percent, closing two plants in Germany (1,200 jobs) cutting four of 20 manufacturing lines in Malaysia (550 jobs). While no plants in the US are slated for closing, the company is reducing its workforce here, too, laying of 20 administrative staff in its Toledo-area facility. The company was started in Toledo, Ohio as Solar Cells Inc.
The Blade article says the closures were triggered by the elimination of subsidies for the solar-panel industry. Mark Widmar, CFO for First Solar was quoted, “In recent months, we have seen this trend continue and even intensify as European policy makers have proposed and implemented significant reductions in solar subsidies.” He said that business in Europe “is not viable without significant subsidies.”
In a First Solar press release, Mike Ahearn, company chair and interim CEO implies that subsidies encouraged overinvestment in manufacturing capacity. He says, “After a period of robust growth, First Solar is scaled to operate at higher volumes than currently exist following the reduction of subsidies in key legacy markets. As a result, it is essential that we reduce production and decrease expenses to reflect the smaller volume of high-probability demand we forecast. These actions will enable us to focus our resources on developing the markets where we expect to generate significant growth in coming years.”
Last Friday, Nasdaq management announced that First Solar would be removed from the Nasdaq 100, according to another Toledo Blade story, because it failed to meet Nasdaq’s market capitalization benchmarks.
A Nasdaq story reports that the subsidies issue has a global reach, “First Solar … has seen its fortunes decline amid fierce competition from well-financed rivals in China that have grown quickly and competed in markets where demand has been largely dependent on government subsidies.”
In the press release, the company explains that the restructuring is expected to save $30-60 million this year, and realize savings of $100-120 million annually in the future. The company is projecting that the streamlining will reduce per-watt manufacturing costs of a panel to 70-72 cents, less than the previously expected 74 cents in 2012, and to 60-64 cents in 2013.
First Solar’s technology is based on thin-film cadmium telluride deposited directly on glass panels.
Love him or hate him, Bill Gates does have influence. In this new Wall Street Journal video of an on-stage interview at WSJ’s recent “ECO:nomics” conference, Gates discusses several key points, including:
• Energy is what enabled civilization to evolve dramatically over the most recent centuries.
• People in “poor” nations pay more for energy than anyone because there is no grid, so they basically are paying for diesel power.
• People, including knowledgable scientists and engineers, underestimate how hard it is to develop and change a global energy system so that we can get to the point where fossil fuels provide only half of the energy needs in 50 years. People tend also not to look deeply at subsidies or appreciate the energy needs of developing world.
• The potential for innovation in the 20-year range can be dramatic. If one looks at the 75-year range, there is a chance to set some aggressive goals and see substantial reductions in CO2.
• People overestimate what can be done now. There are limits because of what has already been installed or what will be installed over the next 20-30 years. But by 2050, however, we could have all new energy generation plants in the “rich” world built with zero CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, we would still need much more time to have significant reductions in CO2 because of dependency on previously installed bases.
• The ability to run digital simulations and models in energy-related work is much more advanced than people appreciate, but the IT experience over the last two decades also tends to make people overly optimistic about the possible speed of innovation in the energy field.
• Gates discusses the need to have at least one of five “miracle” things to happen, such as 1) dramatically increase reliance on natural gas and be aggressive about related carbon capture during gas processes at 90+ percent level or 2) signficant adoption of Gen IV Nuclear energy with full “passive safety” design (doesn’t require human intervention), or 3) address the special storage and transmission needs of energy sources that require “farming” (solar, wind or biofuel).
• Gates says that for every one of these energy innovation paths, we need 200 “crazy” people who think their idea alone can provide the solution, “some of who we will declare ’sane’ in the future.” He says, “It’s what should happen because it drives both conservation and innovation.”
• For society’s future, he says we need to fund basic energy research at at least twice the level we do right now. That would increase the probability of success for achieving one of the miracles.
• Gates says the greatest energy failure of our energy policy is to not have a carbon tax being imposed or rolled in at some point in the future that incentivizes power industry into reducing CO2 emissions.
• He says the division of financial support for intermittent energy (such as wind) is wrong, with only 2% going to R&D and most of the rest going in various forms of subsidies, tax credits, etc.. for manufacturers and wind farm investors. Gates says he isn’t really talking about things like DOE’s budget, which he believes is just modest, but things that are hidden or not obvious to the public in the form of tax credits, etc. When all that is aggregated, it should seem obvious that we are spending the money foolishly, he says.
• Gates predicts that the lack of political will or good policies in the US over time will be strongly influenced when energy prices in other countries (he suggests China, for example) becomes less expensive in the US.
Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, was in Colorado last week, and after months of reeling from the Solyndra debacle, was able to bask in the glow of successful DOE investments. Chu also used the trip to hammer home his messages of innovation and US manufacturing.
Chu’s first stop was at GE’s PrimeStar Solar plant in Arvada, Colo. PrimeStar is building a large manufacturing plant in Aurora, Colo. that will make enough solar modules to power 80,000 homes, according to an NREL press release. GE is investing $600 million in the plant, which makes good on its promise earlier this year to generate 400 jobs.
The press release says PrimeStar’s cadmium-telluride solar panel technology leverages a $3 million investment by DOE “so the experts at NREL’s solar incubator program could help PrimeStar develop the technology to pilot scale.” Who could argue with a $3 million to $600 million conversion?
At PrimeStar Chu built on his theme of innovation,
“Global business in renewable energy last year was $240 billion,” Chu noted. “It’s destined to grow by leaps and bounds. By 2030 it should be $460 billion a year.
“That’s $5 trillion to $7 trillion—a huge market potential.
“It’s very important that we stay in this game,” Chu said. “Is it a game we can win? Absolutely.
“Because of our technological edge, we can be competitive with anyone in the world” if research and development is funded adequately.
And, what is adequate funding of research and development? It’s starting to sound like apple pie—all agree on its value, but there is plenty of squabbling over the recipe.
In the Nov 18 issue of Science Bill Gates has an editorial piece called “The Energy Research Imperative.” He says “The United States is uniquely positioned to lead in energy innovation, with great universities and national laboratories and an abundance of entrepreneurial talent. But the government must lend a hand.” He says that “government investment in energy innovation has dropped by more than 75 percent” in the last 30 years.
The American Energy Innovation Council, a small group of business leaders that includes Gates, has called for the federal government to increase its funding of energy R&D from $5 billion to $16 billion per year.
That’s not going to happen. Yesterday’s failure of the congressional “supercommittee,” which was tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions effectively guarantees no meaningful increases in federal R&D budgets. Now, the law automatically requires that all discretionary spending remain static for the next two budget years and calls for cutting $917 billion over the next ten years, which could mean cuts to R&D budgets in the range of 7-11 percent.
Instead of increasing, energy investment, at least in the SOFC sector, will decrease again when DOE pulls the plug on SECA funding, as we reported last week.
Where that leaves us is unclear. The consistent message out of the funding agencies for the last several months has been innovation to create jobs. In Colorado, while at NREL, Chu said “We haven’t lost our stature in terms of our ability to invent and innovate. But when I see what other countries are doing in terms of support … we have to remember: ‘Are we in this to win?’”
Chu says there is a $5-7 trillion market potential for renewable energy. That’s a mighty big pie. It may be that private investors and industry will have to be more proactive than they’ve been and not let federal funds decide what the winning technologies are going to be. GE’s $600 million investment is encouraging, as are other indicators, like 1366 Technologies‘ ability to raise private capital. Chu is hoping to convince Congress to continue to fund energy research, which he should. That’s his job. I’d like to see Bill Gates take the message to his corporate peers to invest more aggressively, rather than pound the feds for more money.
There are two important meetings in February 2012 that will be of interest to the segment of our community engaged in energy research, and unfortunately, they overlap.
The Materials and Challenges in Alternative and Renewable Energy 2012 (Feb 26-March 1, Clearwater, Fla.) is a technical meeting cosponsored by ACerS, ASM, TMS and SPE. This will be the meeting to attend for those responsible for “doing” innovation and engineering new energy technologies into realities. The technical program includes symposia specific to a wide range of new energy technologies, such as wind, solar, batteries, nuclear and much more.
ARPA-E’s 2012 Energy Innovation Summit (Feb. 27-29, Washington, DC) seems to be geared more toward strategists and business development types. Keynote speakers include a cadre of big names from large, successful businesses like Gates, Ursula Burns from Xerox, Fred Smith from FedEx and Lee Scott of Walmart, who will, according to an earlier press release, “share ideas for developing and deploying the next generation of clean energy technologies.” There will also be a showcase highlighting recent winners of ARPA-E funded projects.
Are we in this to win? I hope so.
The lead story in today’s ARPA-E e-Newsletter is an announcement for the 2012 rendering of the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. Among the keynote speakers is Bill Gates.
Really? What does Gates know about disruptive energy technology? Just because Gates sees himself as the go-to guy for public health, education and Other World Problems, what street cred does he really have beyond his big bucks?
My colleague, Peter Wray, points out that “[Gates] knows something about how to exploit an opportunity, which is actually a pretty rare business talent,” but that Gates tends to stick to a “conventional wisdom” position, which is diametrically opposed to ARPA-E’s mission.
All three keynote speakers have run successful, very large businesses, but not energy businesses and not even high tech (non-software) businesses. Are disruptive energy technologies mature enough to bring in the Big Business guys for their advice? I’m not convinced.
From the e-Newsletter:
ARPA-E’s Director, Dr. Arun Majumdar recently announced that the third annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit will be held from February 27 - 29, 2012 at the Gaylord Convention Center just outside Washington, D.C. Now in its third year, the Summit is designed to unite key players from all sectors of the nation’s energy innovation community to share ideas for developing and deploying the next generation of clean energy technologies. Last year’s annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit attracted more than 90 speakers and 2,000 attendees from 49 states and 20 countries.
Program highlights Include:
Keynote Addresses by:
• Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy
• Dr. Arun Majumdar, ARPA-E Director
• Mr. Bill Gates, Founder and Chairman of Microsoft
• Mr. Fred Smith, Chairman, President and CEO of FedEx
• Mr. Lee Scott, Chairman, BDT Capital; Former CEO, Wal-Mart
Expanded Technology Showcase featuring:
• More than 150 exhibits from ARPA-E-funded projects and applicants
• New ARPA-E programs of other energy technologies
• A wide range of other exciting new topics and areas
A unique opportunity for the entire energy ecosystem - researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, top corporate executives, and government officials - to build lasting partnerships.
Many more speakers will be added in the coming months. Check the Summit website for the latest news and to register.