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The Future of Transportation

Worldwide, transportation accounts for a strikingly large share of the total energy consumption. Consequentially, a large share of the world’s carbon emissions can be attributed to transportation as well. This share is actually disproportionately large due to the necessity of having liquid fuels for most automobiles, planes, and trains.

However, the transportation sector is also a highly dynamic field. Due to how quickly transportation related infrastructure ages, as well as the speed of technological advancement seeking to improve preexisting systems, the world seems to be in a constant state of transportation flux. Hybrids, electric, fuel cell, solar, and flex vehicles have all taken shares of what has been considered a traditionally a combustion only realm.

With all of the changes in the fuel sector, it is difficult for most people to keep track of what is ‘green’, or for that matter even what is ‘hip’. Some “advancements” such as EV may offer more issues than they solve, especially with the current battery technology we employ.

Yet, there are some solutions out there that have showed extraordinary excellence and sustainability potential. Interestingly, these systems are not found in the futuristic cities of Asia, nor in the well-monitored cities of Europe. Rather, one of the most advanced sustainable transportation programs is found in the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Sao Paulo is a city of nearly 12 million inhabitants, and is actually the largest city in the entire Americas by population. Appropriately, it has a transportation infrastructure designed to match its size. This system includes over 150,000 busses, as well as lighter forms of tram transportation.

For those of you that are peripherally familiar with the economic and energy policies of Brazil, you will understand that is a world leader in ethanol production. Due to the warm climate as well as the vast amounts of arable land, Brazil is the world’s leader in ethanol derived from sugar cane. This ethanol is the most energy advantageous option currently available, and is attractive because sugar is not a staple crop, and therefore does not interfere with human food prices.
Sugarcane ethanol also burns close of 90% cleaner than traditional gasoline. This means, that when coupled with a full life cycle analysis including the refining process, sugarcane ethanol represents a close to 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per kWh when compared to conventional gasoline.

The Brazilian government has recognized the potential of sugarcane ethanol for a long time. Over the last 30 years they have been developing ethanol’s market saturation with well crafted policies and technological advancements.
For light vehicles, Brazil has slowly raised the amount of ethanol required in gasoline up to 25%. This means that for every gallon of “gas”, a quart is ethanol. Amazingly, this modification requires no alteration to a conventional combustion engine. Even the vehicles we drive in America could run off of this mix. Fascinating.
However, Brazil also spawned the development of Flex Fuel Vehicles. These vehicles have only a slightly different engine composition than their conventional combustion cousins, yet the modification allows for them to run on any percentage of ethanol, up to 100%. These cars came to existence close to 15 years ago, and have since accounted for roughly 70% of car sales in Brazil. (I actually own a flex fuel vehicle myself… fun fact).

With this information in mind, Brazil coupled with a few strategic partners worldwide to institute the BEST program. BEST stands for BioEthanol for Sustainable Transportation. Under this program, certain cities globally are trying to alter their existing transportation fleet to better include bioethanol vehicles.

Sao Paulo is a leader in the BEST program, and as well as being the pilot city, it has seen remarkable success. The first aspect in revamping its infrastructure was to phase in over 150 busses that ran on only 95% ethanol mix. These busses have been an enormous success both from a scientific standpoint, but also from a publicity standpoint. As a consequence, Sao Paulo is now in the process of building an entire fleet of similar vehicles.
Other cities worldwide such as Stockholm and Copenhagen have seen the success in Sao Paulo and are now in the process of developing comparable systems. However, it is questionable whether they can emulate the success, simply because Brazil is unique in its ability to manufacture and process sugarcane at such an economical level.

Either way, the revamping of the Sao Paulo transportation system represents one of the most comprehensive moves towards a sustainable public infrastructure that has been seen worldwide. We can only look forward to their continued success.

Original Article on Energy Grid IQ

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Why Urban Infrastructure is Important

In any city, a large part of the carbon output and energy draw can be accredited to the transportation network. In inefficient cities (read L.A.), transportation is burdened by heavy individualized and long distance traffic. This results in people driving alone, in automobiles, for an excessively long period of time. Efficient transportation cities (read New York), are characterized by a large use of public transportation coupled with convenient amenities within close access.
Often times, this is the result of a combination of factors including cultural and economic. However, a large part in determining whether a city’s transportation network is an efficient system depends upon simple infrastructure planning. With that said, we must acknowledge that some infrastructures are easier to plan than others. A developing city such as Lagos or Nairobi has room for intelligent planning and infrastructure plotting, allowing for it to be developed in an effective and intelligent way.
Yet some cities, such as Paris and Rome, are thousands of years old. For these systems, retrofits and delicate city surgery is necessary to input the infrastructure necessary to thrive.
However, some cities are simply unable to adapt new technology to their infrastructure by any feasible means. In our case study, Venice, geographical and cultural reasons inhibit any radical alteration to their infrastructure, yet they still have been able to adapt over time to cope with increased traffic as well as an aging infrastructure system.
For those of you unfamiliar with Venice, it is a city built upon a grid of canals and waterways. These water systems provide the primary means of movement around the city and as such, most people do not own a car or even a bicycle for that matter. As such, the average carbon emissions incurred per person accredited to travel is dominated by the water bound transportation.
If everyone was to have a boat, the canals of Venice would be overcrowded, full of the smell of gas, and burdened by reckless and unregulated drivers. To solve this, the city has established two public infrastructure systems: the water busses (vaporetti), and the water taxis (traghetti also known as the traditional Gondola).
The vaporetti are large motorized boats owned by the public transit authority of Venice (ACTV). The offer shuttles around the Grand Canal as well as through a series of smaller channels. However, due to their size and clearance they are unable to traverse some of the smaller Venetian passageways. They use a series of numeric and alphabetic identifiers to indicate what line the vaporetti is running. Some lines stay around the central city, including line 1 which is essentially a tourist shuttle along the Grand Canal, whereas others reach the exterior of the metro area even making stops on the outside of the main Venice island.
The vaporetti is impressive for a few reasons. The first of which is its novel route system. Many cities around the world operate water based transportation out of necessity; however none has one as elaborate as the vaporetti. The vaporetti must change its service lines as a function of the tide levels. During high tide, it goes into a simpler designation that is strikingly different than the normal routine. This is an active way to adapt to Venice’s ever changing infrastructure constraints that are a function of its sea-tied position. For a comparison if the difference in scheduling, contrast the maps found here: https://www.actv.it/pdf/navigazione/Mappa_linee_2nov.pdf and https://www.actv.it/en/movinginvenice/emergencyserviceinfoggyconditionsandduringhightide.
It should be noted that the Venice water bus system also changes routes when fog conditions are high or when algae blooms occur. The ability of the vaporetti to adapt, and adapt with preemption rather than response, is a testament to the intelligent and organic nature of the Venice infrastructure system.
Secondly, the vaporetti has adopted a dual payment scheme that works for the advantage of many different users. One can either purchase a set number of rides at a fixed price per ride, or, one can purchase a blanket commuter pass ranging anywhere from 12 hours to 12 months. Both of the payment schemes have pros and cons for various users. As such, the vaporetti is remarkably successful from a financial perspective. Although, it should be noted that the vaporetti’s finances are undoubtedly bolstered by overly ambitious tourists filtering through this city year round.
From a carbon perspective, the vaporetti are amazingly efficient since each boat is (almost always by most accounts) jammed to the brim with passengers. Although this makes riding conditions not always entertaining, it does reduce individual carbon output significantly.
The second main form of transportation around Venice is to use the gondola water taxi system. These are long, narrow boats that are licensed to be piloted by a certified gondolier. The city of Venice has amazingly harsh constraints on the licensing process for gondoliers: so harsh that if even one mistake is made during the licensing test, the gondolier fails and must wait four years before retaking the exam. The harsh licensing criteria allows for the ACTV to both limit the number of vessels along the canal, but also make sure that no one is crashing into the delicate canal infrastructure.
The gondola system acts as both a set-ferry service for those wishing to avoid the crowded vaporetti, as well as a set-price taxi service for those looking to go to some of the more reclusive or specific locations within Venice. However, because gondolas are strictly manpowered, the carbon offset per individual ride is limited. However, because of the minimal number of gondolier licenses issued, the price for a gondola ride is usually economically viable.
The important point is that the city of Venice, although not a particularly large city, has developed an infrastructure that is both effective and environmentally conscious. It made due with the constraints it had from the canal network, and shaped its modern transportation tactics accordingly. Furthermore, it has left room about upgrading the vaporetti lines to be solar, natural gas, or even EV based in the future.

Original Article on EnergyGridIQ

Phasing Out Nuclear Power

Nuclear energy has always existed within the back of our energy thoughts. Fears of safety, both rational and irrational have stemmed nuclear’s growth while the promise of cheap and oil independent energy have fostered its development. Perhaps because of these two conflicting forces, nuclear energy today is not much different than the nuclear energy of the 1970’s. Yes, newer computers and safety mechanisms have entered the scene, allowing for a greater amount of control and containment, yet the industry as a whole has barely changed at all.
If nuclear has changed, it has been a conservative one. Following the issues at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the growth of peaceful nuclear energy stagnated in many of the world’s developed nations. Then, last year following the tragedy in Japan and the Fukushima reactor meltdown, nuclear energy may have been dealt its deathblow.
For the cynics out there, the fall of nuclear seems to be nothing more than a free path for oil and coal to infiltrate and overtake every last segment of the energy market.
Yet, this may not be true.
In 1998 a socio-democratic coalition came to power in Germany promising to shut down and reactive all of Germany’s nuclear reactors. At that time, nearly 1/3 of Germany’s electricity came from nuclear sources, so this proclamation was no small feat. The goal was to have all of the plants offline by 2020.
Yet, by the start of 2011, political stagnation and vacillating opinions had essentially kept the nuclear power off dead. Indeed, only two of the plants had come offline and this was primarily due to technical (not policy) related issues.
However following the Fukushima disaster, Germany was jolted into action. Instantaneously the Merkel coalition closed 7 nuclear power plants and had immediate plans for shutting down 2 more. The original promise to power down Germany’s nuclear operations by 2020 was reinstated (with the goal of 2022 this time).
It seemed as if the door was closed on nuclear once and for all.
Is this a good move for Germany? In some ways, the nuclear shut down opens up the door for energy instability, highly variant electricity prices, and a destabilized and unsecure energy network as a whole. Not to mention, the nuclear shutdown would seem to increase Germany’s reliance of imported oil. Germany, a proudly austere and independent country certain does not wish for this.
However, upon looking deeper into Germany’s energy sector, there is a more complex picture. Initially, to replace lost capacity from nuclear shut down, Germany proposed funding two new clean-coal fired plants. These proposals were quickly withdrawn due to a mix of environmental and policy backlash.
As a repercussion, Germany has established a funding initiative for renewable energy sources designed to replace the nuclear capacity. These funding initiatives encourage Germany’s already strong wind market while providing seed funding and benefits to its fledgling biofuel market. The combination of these two impacts should assist in offsetting the loss of the nuclear program.
It would seem as if Germany’s removal of nuclear has given wind and solar a chance rather than simply allow for coal to encroach.
Yet, what of other countries worldwide?
In the United States no nuclear plants have been built since the Three Mile Island scare of 1979, yet this stagnation has done little to foster the growth of renewables. And, to add a new level of complexity in the nuclear question, a new nuclear plant in Georgia recently received approval to be constructed. (https://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/nuclear-plant-built-georgia-15551296)
How are we to interpret these trends?
Only time will tell. Yet for the United States, a country constantly plagued by energy hunger, closing our 104 (perhaps soon 105) nuclear power plants will be a difficult transition. Especially in areas such as New England where one third of the total power is nuclear, it would seem as if abandoning our radioactive friend is nothing more than science fiction for the time being.

Original Article on EnergyGridIQ

Energy Storage: Liquid Nitrogen (LN2)

Energy storage: the ability to transport energy over distances and in a safe and easily used fashion. Chemically, physically, or by other means, it is a challenge of both efficiency and capacity. In our energy storage series we take a look at some of the real and proposed technologies for storing and moving energy.

This week: Liquid Nitrogen (LN2)

Whether it was in a middle school science class or at the dermatologists, most people are familiar (at least to a degree) with liquid nitrogen. That canister that continuously smokes off in the corner is a familiar and intimidating image evoking thoughts of mad scientists and not energy storage.
However, within the cold confines of liquefied nitrogen, there are many properties useful and promising for advancement in the world of energy storage.
If you look back to the article on heat exchangers and air handler units (https://www.energygridiq.com/inside-the-air-handler/) you will see that a heat exchange works by ‘sucking’ the hot energy out of the air and moving it to another location. In a system that used liquid nitrogen as an energy storage vehicle, the liquid nitrogen would suck heat out of the air and the result would be a pressurized gas that could drive a piston to power and engine.
Of course, the liquid nitrogen would have to be generated using stirling engines (as it is today most of the time). However, the advantage is that stirling engines can generate liquid nitrogen directly from mechanical sources. This means that wind turbines, rather than waste efficiency on generating electricity (which is not well monitored and has variable capacity) could generate liquid nitrogen that may be selectively released.
At its simplest form, it means that our wind and hydro facilities can be used giant liquid nitrogen manufacturing plants rather than electricity producers.
Liquid nitrogen energy storage is still in its infancy and many issues such as lubrication exist with successfully designing a LN2 engine. However, the technology does have promise due to the physical simplicity of the system, advances in thermal insulators, and abundance of N2 in the atmosphere.
For more on liquid nitrogen take a look at some additional articles:
A fun look at a research project turned vehicle!

https://www.mtse.unt.edu/CooLN2Car.html

An analysis of the energy benefits of using LN2 systems.

https://large.stanford.edu/publications/coal/references/docs/sae98.pdf

A breakdown on conventional LN2 storage methods.

https://liquidnitrogentank.com/

And for more news and info on energy storage, or just energy thoughts in general check back to www.energygridiq.com.

Original Article on EnergyGridIQ

In Focus: Renewable Energy Credits

Sometimes it pays to be bad; Bonnie and Clyde, Jesse James, and Al Capone wouldn’t have been famous otherwise.

However, when it comes to stealing from the environment, that’s not always the case. In fact, thanks to renewable energy credits, it is just the opposite.

Renewable energy credits, or REC, are an energy market innovation designed to bolster the creation, generation, and distribution of electricity emanating from renewable sources. Essentially RECs provide renewable energy generators a secondary source of income along with the electricity they produce.

Let me explain:

For an example, consider an individual who owns a patch of solar cells in California. These solar cells generate electricity when the sun is out, and this electricity is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). However, because this is a renewable energy source, it is also generating a renewable energy credit.

Because all electricity is the same (just flow of electrons), it is in fact the REC that differentiates ‘clean’ from ‘dirty’ electricity.

What does this mean?

Well, for markets that have a mandated renewable energy portfolio, it means that renewable energy credits can be sold, independent of the electricity, to the states, companies, or organization in need of green, clean energy. As an example, if the state of New York did not meet its required renewable energy quota, it could fill the gap by purchasing RECs from a solar farmer in Nevada.

Thus the solar farmer benefits from both the electricity he produces and the REC it subsequently generates.

It is important to note that once electricity has been severed from its source and associated REC, it is no longer considered ‘green’. Without the REC, electricity is the same, no matter where it came from.

At its core, RECs are still a market experiment. They are constantly being refined and altered to accurately compensate the energy generator. It should be noted that this is a topic of great political debate since the market price of RECs often reflects the prominence of a renewable energy portfolio.

A great resource to get further briefed on RECs is the EPA website listed below:
www.epa.gov/greenpower/gpmarket/rec.htm
If you are interested in purchasing or selling RECs, EnergyGridIQ is the perfect forum to do so. By connecting users on both a production and consumption side through an incentive rich databse, EnergyGridIQ allows the renewable energy credit sellers to contact the renewable energy credit consumers no matter where the market.

Check out EnergyGridIQs project page for more details.

Original Article on EnergyGridIQ

In Focus: Net Metering

Let’s say you are interesting in generating your own electricity. There are a couple of intuitive benefits. First off, you don’t have to pay that nagging electricity bill. Secondly, you can have the peace of mind that your lights aren’t powered off of dirty coal smoke. However, for most states there is also another benefit. For those independent electricity generators making their own power, there is actually the option to sell your electricity back into the grid. This process is commonly known as ‘Net Metering’.

Why such a fancy name for such a simple concept? Well, like most things in the energy world, Net Metering arose from a jumble of economic and engineering terms. The ‘net’ refers to the total amount of electricity and the ‘meter’ refers to the electricity meter outside of your house. You remember that weird looking circle with a bunch of spinning clock-like things?

Most of the time, those ‘clocks’ spin clockwise, and although they are fun to watch, they also cost you MONEY every spin they take.

However, under Net Metering, the rules work a little differently. Perhaps you have a PV solar unit on your roof and your state has net metering laws in effect. Whenever you generate more electricity than you use (perhaps when you are at work at the sun is beating down on your roof with no one home) you make money!

As simple as that. Imagine going home one day and getting a letter from your electric utility, and inside is that dreaded bil…wait, what’s that? A check? From utility to you? Talk about your lucky day!

Well it’s not luck, its net metering, and it’s just another reason why installing solar cells, small scale wind, or even small hydro is an economically viable way to produce electricity.

Net Metering… in depth:
Within the United States, all public electric utilities are required to make Net Metering available to their customers. This was stipulated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. To read more check out: https://doi.net/iepa/EnergyPolicyActof2005.pdf

Some states offer a bolster on Net Metering known as Feed-In-Tariff’s (or FIT’s). Usually, net metering pays the customers the same price as the retail price for the electricity they produce (i.e. if you get charges 10cents per kWh, then when you produce a kWh, you get paid 10 cents). However, under the FIT system, you would get paid say 15cents for a kWh when the usual price was 10 cents. FIT’s are usually awarded on a contract basis providing a guarantee of renewable energy production over the course of many years.

For more on FIT’s check out www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/45549.pdf

For specific information on where Net Metering and FITs are offered, take a look at www.energygridiq.com for details.

Original Article on EnergyGridIQ

In Focus: Carbon Capture Technology

Coal is bountiful, cheap, and accounts for about 50% of our current electricity generation. Worldwide, coal is the dominant source of power and is projected to increase even further as petroleum prices skyrocket.

However, coal is dirty. Along with ash, it is also carbon rich and has an incredibly high ratio of CO2 output per kWh of electricity generated. This is because the hydrocarbon ratio in coal is very low (about 1C to 1H), meaning more C per bond broken, and consequentially more CO2.

In an age where concern over greenhouse gasses seems to run counter to free market ideology, what can be done to make coal energy, more appealing?

The answer lies with carbon capture technology.

Carbon capture, and carbon scrubbing, is the technology that goes into cleaning, filtering, and storing the excess CO2 generated by coal fired power plants.

Already, there are examples of carbon capture that we did not even build. Every plant and algae species are effectively a terrestrial carbon capture machine. They take CO2 from the air and turn it into stored, organic carbon.

However, with an increase in airborne CO2 ,clearly more than simply trees and algae are necessary to rectify out CO2 imbalance.

One method of carbon capture is to inject effluent CO2 into underground caverns. According to a USGS study, closer to 40% of the coal fired power plants within the U.S. lie directly above of potential geological CO2 storage caverns. This could provide successful areas where we can inject CO2 underground rather than allow it to enter the atmosphere. This makes ‘dirty coal’ into ‘economical coal’ and a far more attractive option than it is today.

Other Carbon Capture technology seeks to pump CO2 into existing geological cavities formed from dried oil wells. Yet other tech seeks to crystallize the CO2 and use the resulting mineral as building material.

As it stands now, CO2 sequestration technology is not yet commercially viable. Due to the large amount of energy required to pump the gas underground, there is constant research going into how to better perform CO2 sequestration technology.

This research falls into precombustion and postcombustion categories.
Precombustion alters the fuel source before it is ignited. Often times, this is a gasification process (see gasification article).

Postcombustion is dealing with the CO2 after the fuel source has been ignited. These methods include passing carbon through membrane filters, allowing the CO2 to be biologically metabolized, using the CO2 in fertilizer aspects, using CO2 as an enzyme for catalysis processes or adding CO2 to landfills for accelerate the carbon cycle.

Existing CO2 sequestration projects include:

Archer Daniels Midland (IL)

https://www.adm.com/enUS/responsibility/2010CR/environmental_improvement/Pages/carbon_sequestration.aspx

Leucadia Energy, LLC (NY)

https://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/coalpower/cctc/iccs1/bibliography/iccs_leucadia.html

The cutting edge of carbon sequestration technology includes using the CO2 for anything from biofuel to concrete production. These include large industrial projects such as Phycal, LLC.

For more on carbon sequestration:

https://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/powersystems/index.html

https://csite.ornl.gov/

https://www.epa.gov/sequestration/faq.html

Original Article on EnergyGridIQ