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Archive for October, 2011

Geothermal is the Energizer Bunny of the Imperial Valley

(Updated 11/6/11 with article ENERGY: Geothermal wants a level playing field by Eric Wolff at end of post.)  

Tim Kelley, CEO of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation, calls Imperial Valley the renewable energy epicenter of California.  He could just as easily say the region is at the very bottom of renewable energy resources in California.  My last trip to the Imperial Valley took me to Calipatria near the south end of the Salton Sea.  Every day Calipatrians view the city’s landmark, a 184 foot flag pole, the top of which is at sea level.  Calipatria is the lowest city in the western hemisphere.  The happy combination of low elevation, thin earth crust and seismic activity enables the Imperial Valley to generate 20% of all the geothermal energy produced in the United States. 

The 16 geothermal plants in the area produce over 530 megawatts of electricity most of which is sold to Southern California Edison.  It is anticipated that the Salton Sea geothermal field may contain an additional 2,000 megawatts of commercial development potential. 

None of the “hot rock” electricity is directed to San Diego due to the lack of transmission line capacity, a problem which the Sunrise Powerlink will solve.  The biggest operator with 10 facilities is CalEnergy, a MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company (part of the Warren Buffett empire).  Cal Energy’s Vonderahe-1 is one of the largest and hottest geothermal wells in the world.  It can produce nearly 2.2 million pounds of hot water in an hour, enough to power a 50-megawatt power plant.  Number two operator in the Imperial Valley is Ormat Technologies, a subsidiary of Israel-based Ormat Industries.

The Salton Sea area of Imperial County will see five new geothermal projects go on line in 2012 with a combined capacity of 239 megawatts.

In simplified terms, a geothermal production well is drilled to a depth of 5,000 to 10,000 feet to tap into reservoirs of superheated fluids.  This 400 degree Fahrenheit brine rushes to the surface where steam is “flashed” in a series of closed vessels to drive turbines to produce electricity.  The cooled-down brine is piped a distance away from the generating plant to be injected back into the earth to re-enter the reservoir to capture the earth’s heat.  Once a reservoir is located and tapped the flow of the super-hot brine is relatively steady and sustainable.  No carbon emissions are associated with the process.  Unlike solar and wind energy, geothermal energy is a baseload resource generating electricity 24/7. 

This past week San Diego was the host of the 2011 convention of the Geothermal Energy Association.  More than 2,500 attendees from 33 different states and 13 different countries came together in San Diego for the largest gathering of geothermal energy leaders in the world.  In conjunction with the event GEA published a 13 page report, Energizing Southern California’s Economy: The Economic Benefits and Potential for Geothermal Energy in Southern California.  Click here for the report.

Google has added to the body of knowledge by contributing their technical expertise and a big chunk of cash.  Enhanced Geothermal Systems Potential in Google Earth incorporates tens of thousands of new thermal data points to create the most data rich maps of U.S. geothermal resources to date.  Here’s what Fast Company thinks. 

In addition to energy to generate electricity, the vast geothermal resources in the Imperial Valley include geothermal fluids rich in several economically valuable metals including lithium, manganese and zinc.  Recently Forbes magazine outlined the current state of the opportunity, Lithium: The New California Gold Rush.

You will want to take the virtual tour of a CalEnergy geothermal facility.  Click here to begin your grand tour.

In 2008 the Imperial Irrigation District commissioned a Renewable Energy Feasibility study.  In addition to geothermal, the 118 page report evaluates solar, wind and biomass energy.

Eric Wolff in the North County Times ENERGY: Geothermal wants a level playing field.


SIDEBAR: Photo op at the mudpots


These mudpots are located in an open field on the southeastern side of the Salton Sea. The mud is just above ambient temperature and you can walk right up to the vents. 








Where hot water is limited and hydrogen sulfide gas is present (emitting the “rotten egg” smell common to thermal areas), sulfuric acid is generated. The acid dissolves the surrounding rock into fine particles of silica and clay that mix with what little water there is to form the seething and bubbling mudpots.




Copy and paste the location to Google maps:  Davis Rd & W Schrimpf Rd, Calipatria, Imperial, California 92233.  The satellite view shows the “volcanoes” and their proximity to the Salton Sea.





Click here for a Youtube video (not mine) of the mudpots complete with glugs, blurps and bloops.


E2 EcoSalon: Energy Security and the Impact on the Economy

Carl Nettleton, Lee Stein, Elizabeth Dreicer McPhail, Bryce Rhodes

The E2 San Diego Chapter held an EcoSalon on Thursday, October 20, titled, “Energy Security and the Impact on the Economy.”  The event was held at Chapter Co-Director Lee Stein’s home and featured three panelists: Leendert “Len” Hering Sr. RADM, USN (ret.); Stephen Mayfield, UC San Diego Professor of Biology and Director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology; and Marney Cox, Chief Economist for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). E2 San Diego Chapter Co-Director Carl Nettleton moderated the session. 

San Diego is a hub for both the military and alternative fuels development and the panelists discussed the national and local imperatives driving the military’s emphasis on reducing or eliminating fossil fuel use.  According to Chapter Co-Director Elizabeth Dreicer McPhail, the event met the goal of bringing together a small but quality group of business and community leaders to provide visibility for E2 while researching locally important issues and appealing to potential new members.

In August E2 published a 23 page report, Advanced Biofuel Market Report 2011.  Click here for your copy.

Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) is a national community of business leaders who promote sound environmental policy that builds economic prosperity.  E2 has seven chapters: Northern California, New England, New York, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Los Angeles, and San Diego.


The shocking capabilities of clean tech vehicles

By Guest Author Alan Parker

As the world’s oil supplies dry up and the price of gasoline and diesel continue to skyrocket, the need for practical, clean, alternative fuel sources for motor vehicles becomes increasingly imperative.  Fortunately, green energy devotees have been performing some amazing feats of ingenuity, drawing attention to the efficiency and practicality of numerous forms of sustainable energy.  Specially designed vehicles have been proven capable of things from setting speed records to traversing entire continents without using petroleum-based fuels.  These feats demonstrate that alternative energy can be effectively employed in order to rid the world of its dependence on petroleum for transportation while preserving the environment by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Breaking Speed Records
As the popularity of cars like the Chevrolet Volt and the Toyota Prius increases, the idea of using electricity to run vehicles is rapidly becoming accepted in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, most so-called electric cars are only hybrid vehicles, which means that they still require internal fuel combustion for some of their power.  A group of students at Brigham Young University set out to create a car that was not only fully electric, but also dispelled the stereotypes of electric cars being slow and underpowered.  They called their car Electric Blue, and it had a top speed of 175 miles per hour when it was tested at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. This was fast enough to set a world land speed record for a car of its class.  Hopefully, this project’s success will aid in the production of electric cars that are faster and more powerful, and therefore more appealing to the public.

Crossing a Continent by Wind
In order to show the effectiveness of wind as an energy source, a German team crosses the Australian continent in a car powered by the wind.  Each night, they would set up a portable wind turbine to recharge the car’s battery, which gave it sufficient energy for the next day.  If the wind was strong enough, a kite attached to the car would propel it down the road and save batter power.  The trip 3,000 mile trip was completed in only 18 days, giving engineers hope that wind could become a practical source of energy for transportation in the future.

Crossing a Continent by Biofuel
Powered only by biofuel, the first ever land based trans-Antarctic expedition was recently finished at the end of 2010.  Funded by clean energy advocate Winston Wong, the so-called Bio-inspired Ice Vehicle (BIV) is the first bio-fueled vehicle to complete such a task. Not only was it designed to demonstrate the power of alternative energy, but it was engineered to withstand the extreme conditions that Antarctica is famous for while transporting a research team safely across a continent.

People Power
While this may immediately bring to mind something out of the Flintstones, the HumanCar, as it is simply known, harnesses the power of quick rowing motions by the driver and passengers to charge its battery.  The HumanCar is capable of reaching speeds over 60 miles per hour. While it’s currently only made for short-distance commuter travel, newer versions are being designed to allow long-distance journeys, as well.  Besides its clean power source, the HumanCar has other (more…)


Two San Diego companies look to sorghum as a non-food resource

(Updated 11/5/11 with ChloroFill video interview at end of post.)

Yesterday Synthetic Genomics announced the spin-off of Agradis, an agricultural biotech charged with commercializing its advances in plant breeding and genomics.  (See Bruce Bigelow’s Xconomy Coverage) With Series A funding of $20 million, Agradis’ initial focus will be castor, sorghum and other cash crops. 

Sorghum presents Agradis opportunities to build upon a compelling set of plant attributes to create more advanced varieties for an expanded menu of uses including biofuels.  The emphasis is on solutions which can be grown on land unsuitable for food crops. 

San Diego-based ChloroFill is also on the sorghum band-wagon.  Last week they announced two new sorghum-based renewable building material products.

ChlorOSB and ChlorOSB(p) are fiberboards made with sorghum stalks- an agricultural waste product- and a formaldehyde-free binder.  Sorghum stalks have long been used for building materials. Their high cellulose content makes stalks light while remaining pliable and strong.  Sorghum grows in warmer climate and tropical regions of the world. It is a hyper-renewable resource that grows over six-feet high in as little as 110 days. Sorghum is used for food, fodder, alcoholic beverages, and biofuels. Stalks have been used throughout the ages for thatch, fences, baskets, brushes, paper and brooms. The supply, however, exceeds demand and the remaining stalks are often considered agricultural waste and disposed of by burning in fields. The environmental impact results in tons of carbon dioxide and nitrogen into the atmosphere every year.

ChloroFill boards can be used in many of the same nonstructural applications as bamboo, fiberboards, particle boards, plywood and oriented strand boards (OSB). Designer applications include:

Counter tops
Architectural Elements
Wall and Ceiling Coverings

“We are excited to launch our new superior treeless wood products, and we hope that our products become the carcinogen-free choice in green building materials for the interior design, building and furniture industries,” stated Michael Hurst, CEO of ChloroFill.

Click for video interview of Michael Hurst, ChloroFill CEO at Clean Tech Expo



California dominates ranking of top cleantech companies worldwide

Cleantech companies in San Diego continue to receive global recognition as innovators.  On Wednesday Cleantech Group LLC (not to be confused with CleanTECH San Diego) announced their 2011 Global Cleantech 100.  From our region the honorees were Genomatica, On-Ramp Wireless and Synthetic Genomics.  There are 58 U.S. companies on the list with California way in front with an impressive 36.  In all, 16 countries were represented.

The rigorous selection process began with a long list of 4,274 nominated companies.  The expert panel was made up of 70 individuals drawn principally from leading cleantech investors from around the world. 

The leading cleantech sub-sector was Energy Efficiency with 19 companies.  This was followed by Solar (14), Water & Wastewater (12), Energy Storage (10) and Biofuels & Biomaterials (9). 

Click here to read the 32 page report. 


UC San Diego is a campus-wide living laboratory for sustainable energy

Last week I attended Procopio’s Environmental Breakfast Club held on the UC San Diego campus.  Under John Lormon’s direction the speakers began with some comments about the differences between smartgrid and microgridByron Washom, Director of Strategic Energy Initiatives, UC San Diego gave an update on the status of the sophisticated microgrid being built on the ever-expanding seaside campus.  Much has been accomplished with more to come.  The UC San Diego system demonstrates the advantages of an intelligent energy system designed for increased efficiency, security and sustainability.  Environmental sustainability at UC San Diego is a real-world learning experience serving the dual purposes of advancing the base of knowledge and saving the university millions of dollars in operating expenses. 

About the UCSD microgrid Forbes magazine said, “First light for what the new smart grid architecture will look like is already visible”.  It is an integral part of a much larger campus community effort.  Click to learn about Sustainability 2.0, A Living Laboratory.  Click here for Byron Washom’s presentation, Local Impact, National Influence, Global Reach

My favorite educational experience has always been show and tell.  We were treated to a tour of the campus for a first-hand look at the key components of the evolving energy system.  On the very day we were there the largest full cell on any college campus was being activated for the first time.  Manufactured by FuelCell Energy, Inc., the 2.8-megawatt fuel cell will provide about 8% of UC San Diego’s total energy needs.  In conjunction with the City of San Diego and Encinitas-based BioFuels Energy, the renewable-energy project will turn waste methane gas from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant directly into electricity without combustion.

Directly opposite the site of the huge fuel cell are two impressively large solar arrays designed and fabricated by Soitec and installed on the campus for evaluation.  The first solar installation was a progressive step which led to San Diego Gas & Electric signing contracts with Soitec for 125 megawatts of solar power.  The second is the fifth generation of Soitec’s concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) system which will generate about five times more electricity with a fractionally larger footprint. 

The new system consists of 12 CPV modules, each generating more than 2 kW of peak power.  For this new product, Soitec has reconfigured its Concentrix modules to reduce the number of parts per CPV system, making installation in the field simpler and faster.  By leveraging the field-proven CPV cells, high concentration ratio and silicone-on-glass Fresnel lens construction used in previous generations of Concentrix products, the new system delivers the same high reliability and life expectancy.

Soitec’s two-axis-tracking CPV systems are well suited for installation sites with high direct solar radiation.  The systems produce a high, constant power output curve throughout the day and are able to match peak-load demands.

Soitec has begun shipping demonstration units to project sites.  Plans call for volume production to ramp in the first quarter of 2012 at the company’s manufacturing facility in Freiburg, Germany, and later at Soitec’s planned new factory in San Diego.

The last photo is of the partially completed, fifth generation Soitec CPV system on the UC San Diego campus as of October 12, 2011.



Jet biofuel innovation to ignite the biofuels sector

The road to affordable alternative fuel for your car may be at 36,000 feet.  Aviation fuel from non-petroleum feed-stocks will be the first big win for alternative transportation fuel.  This success will bring a wealth of tech experience, concept proofs and scale which will jump start the introduction of new fuels for ground and water transportation.  Here are the five top reasons why jet fuel will be biofuels’ first big win.

Motivated buyers with concentrated demand

Of the more than ¾ billion vehicles on this planet the vast majority are owned by individuals or small businesses.  Most share my annoyance with the ever elevating price at the pump, but my annual expenditure for fuel is a small portion of my total budget.  In contrast, jet fuel is consumed by a limited number of commercial carriers and militaries.  Their fuel costs are a significant portion of their operating budgets. 

In the last decade over 25 airlines have ceased operation strangled by an ever tightening fuel hose.  For the survivors the risk of fuel price increase is greater than the opportunity to increase revenue.  Passenger-carrying flights with jet biofuel from a variety of non-petroleum feed-stocks have been flown by Continental, Quantas, United, Iberia, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Northwest, KLM, Japan Air Lines and a host of others.  American Airlines signed with 14 other carriers to purchase alternative fuels.  This week Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic announced the development of a world-first low carbon aviation fuel with just half the carbon footprint of the standard fossil fuel alternative.  The technology from New Zealand-based LanzaTech represents a breakthrough in aviation fuel technology that will see waste gases from industrial steel production being captured, fermented and chemically converted using Swedish Biofuels technology for use as a jet fuel. The revolutionary fuel production process recycles waste gases that would otherwise be burnt into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.  Boeing is supporting the effort.  A $3.5 million Series A funding was led by billionaire Vinod Khosla.  In June an award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was made to LanzaTech to perform research focusing on novel, low cost routes for the production of jet fuel (JP-8) from carbon monoxide (CO) rich sources.   Click here for Branson’s video presentation.  And here for the release

Concentrated distribution infrastructure 

Ground transportation is characterized by over 300,000 filing stations world-wide.  There are only 1700 airports (excluding military) of which about half are international.  Access to just 500 of the top airports represents a significant portion of jet fuel consumption. 

No competing innovations for foreseeable future

Boeing does not have an electric plane on the drawing board.  There is no Airbus Leaf or Volt.  No CNG, nuclear, solar or long-life batteries.  Biofuels are the drop-in alternatives to the dead dinosaur derivative. 

The scale is doable and significant

Boeing says the world’s airlines burn 60 billion gallons of petroleum based jet fuels each year.  If alternative fuels were to capture 15% or 20% of this market the industry would achieve a scale which would spill over onto other fuel markets. 

An effective military trumps a dysfunctional government

Twenty years ago it would have been difficult to foresee a future in which treehuggers would be obstructionists to alternative energy projects and career militarists would be the driving force for prioritizing our society’s clean energy goals.  A Congress which cannot pass a budget and an administration which cannot articulate a national energy policy are impotent to nurture innovation.  Fortunately the military is responsive and undeterred by the dearth of leadership from our elected officials.

The U.S. military consumes more energy than any other consumer in our country.  About 84% goes for aviation fuel.   Dollars wasted on rising fuel costs are at the expense of other critical needs.  The threat of supply interruptions increases with our growing dependence on oil shipped from half a world away.  The military’s response is clear and unequivocal.  Clean energy is a matter of national security.  All services branches are moving forward on plans with specific goals and time targets.  Click here to read the commitment of four retired top ranking officers to our military’s clean energy objectives. 

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has directed the Navy and Marine Corps to generate half of their energy needs from renewable sources, including biofuels, by 2020.  San Diego’s rapidly growing cluster of biofuel companies and research institutions is an integral part of the response to the opportunity.  General Atomics and SAIC have been awarded contracts by DARPA to develop the technical capability and affordable production of military JP-8 surrogate fuel from algae feed-stocks.  Sapphire Energy, Synthetic Genomics, S.G. Biofuels and other San Diego-based biofuels companies are all a part of this important transformation of our energy driven economy. 

Biofuels Digest provides additional insight on the role of aviation biofuels, Quick Win: aviation biofuels offers breakout for clean energy.

To learn more about the local burgeoning biofuels cluster go to the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SD-CAB).  SD-CAB along with UCSD, SDSU, CleanTECH San Diego, and BioCOM collaborated to launch Educating and Developing Workers for the Green Economy (EDGE) focused on educating a next-generation workforce in green technology.




Shine the spotlight on nine San Diego cleantech companies

Since 1987, the CONNECT Most Innovative New Product (MIP) Awards have been San Diego’s “Oscars” for local technology innovation.  The 2011 finalists in the Clean Technology category include Genomatica for Process for High-Volume Chemicals from Renewable Feedstocks, Noble Environmental Technologies Corporation for ECOR and Wildcat Discovery Technologies for 5V Cathode (CM1) and Electrolyte (EM1).  Winners will be announced on Friday, December 9th before an audience of more than 800 of San Diego’s top executives, entrepreneurs, VCs and academics.  Click here to register for the MIP exhibition and awards luncheon. 

San Diego’s 18th Annual TechAmerica High Tech Awards finalists in the Clean Technology category include EcoATM, Hadronex, Juice Technologies and Sapphire EnergyClick here to register for the October 28th event. 

The regional cleantech cluster in San Diego continues to receive national recognition.  On Wednesday the Global Cleantech Cluster Association announced the semifinalists for the 2011 Later Stage Award competition.  This best-of-the-best recognition includes four San Diego cleantech companies, Genomatica, PowerGenix, Achates Power and EcoATM.  In another forum Sapphire Energy was honored as a “Game Changer of the Year 2011” in Clean Technology by Grow-California for their impact on California’s green industry.


German based-Voith Turbo opens hybrid power-train development center in Poway

Voith Turbo announced that it has opened a hybrid power-train development center in Poway, CA.  The facility will further develop Voith Turbo’s innovative hybrid diesel/electric power-train drive systems for transit buses.

The office, warehouse and testing facilities cover more than 5,000 square feet.  Expanding on Voith Turbo’s stellar commitment to environmental sustainability, the building features a large solar panel installation that provides electricity for most day-to-day facility operations.

“We are extremely excited to open a U.S.-based Hybrid Power-Train Development Center,” said Rob Wiss, Vice President of Voith Turbo’s U.S. Road Division.  ”The center will allow us to further develop hybrid bus technologies and cater to the specific needs of our customers who want to expand their use of this emerging technology.  Above all, we are making an important contribution to the U.S. economy by expanding the use of clean-energy technology in transportation fleets across the country.”

By embedding the engineering component in the development center, Voith Turbo will be able to offer expanded technical service and better serve customers’ needs and requirements.  Currently, much of the (more…)


#1 Electric vehicle city San Diego to celebrate National Plug-In Day

National Plug-In Day, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011, is a nationwide observance drawing global attention to the environmental, economic and other benefits of plug-in electric vehicles through simultaneous events staged in at least twenty major cities.  In San Diego you can celebrateNational Plug-In Day at CCSE‘sTailgate without Tailpipes” party.  Picnic lunch will be provided for all.  Join CCSE and ECOtality to get the latest information on the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP) funding and the latest news on the EV Project’s charging stations in the region.  Following lunch there will be presentations with an open discussion and time for questions.

Come to the workshop and learn more about:

  • Expected timing for the release of $15 million in FY 2011-2012 CVRP funding and how this affects rebate applicants currently on the CVRP Wait List
  • Status update from ECOtality’s San Diego Area Manager on EV Project charger installations in the region  (more…)