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Archive for November, 2011

Job training grants to give workers “EDGE” in biofuels industry

If algae is to be the solution for America’s pain at the gas pump, trained workers are needed to make that a reality.  Applications are now available for continuing education grants at the University of California San Diego to retrain workers as general science technicians in the rapidly expanding biofuels industry in the San Diego and Imperial County region.

Approximately 55 students will begin classes in March of 2012, with each student receiving the equivalent of a $7,000 grant from the State of California. Prospective students from across California interested in applying for next year’s EDGE program and biofuels and industrial biotechnology companies interested in hiring interns from the program should contact Karen Overklift at the BIOCOM Institute (858) 455-0300, extension 104 or or go to

Algae, the substance known to many as “pond scum,” may one day be the fuel that powers U.S. automobiles.

“That’s what petroleum is – it’s ancient algae,” said Dr. Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology at UC San Diego and director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SD-CAB). “Algae already makes oil that looks like crude oil. The oil we extract from algae goes directly into a refinery and gets converted into diesel or gasoline.”

The students, who will attend classes at UC San Diego Extension and Mira Costa College, are the second cohort of students in a program funded by a two-year, $4-million grant from California’s Department of Labor under the Green Innovation Challenge.

“Nationwide there is a need for skilled workers to participate in the development and commercialization of new technologies, as we can see in the field of alternative energies,” said Hugo Villar, director of science and technology at UC San Diego Extension. “The university has been a leader in helping adult learners acquire new knowledge and skills that allow them to transition out of stagnant areas of the job market and participate into more vibrant areas as we are doing now with biofuels.”

“This program is not only training workers for new jobs in the local economy, it will eventually help our nation become less dependent on foreign oil,” said Mayfield, “The bioenergy sector will eventually be creating millions of jobs nationwide. Our biggest challenge will be to keep those jobs in California.”

The grant involves the work of a number of local partners, which include UC San Diego, San Diego State University, Mira Costa College EDGE program, SD-CAB, CleanTECH San Diego, BIOCOM Institute, BIOCOM, San Diego Workforce Partnership and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

“With this training, these students are prepared to support the region’s growing biofuels companies and help San Diego continue to be a leader in the biofuels sector,” said Jason Anderson, vice president of CleanTECH San Diego, a non-profit organization that is helping to accelerate San Diego as a world leader in the clean technology economy.

San Diego is widely recognized as one of the world’s leaders in biofuels research and development. A recent analysis, conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), found that for the algal biofuels sector alone, the industry provides the region with 410 direct jobs and $56 million in direct economic activity and $108 million in total economic activity annually.

“It’s critical that we build the research and development infrastructure for the biofuels industry here,” said Mayfield. “Right now, we have a head start on the rest of the world and we can’t afford to lose that.”

Thanks to the $4-million EDGE grant, San Diego has also become a national leader in training biofuels technicians. Mayfield said feedback from the program’s graduates, faculty and local biofuels companies will lead to a redesign of the curriculum for the next class of science biofuels technicians, which will run from March through August of 2012. Once the program is perfected, an online, web-based curriculum will be made available to any California university or college, and through enrollment in UC San Diego Extension to anyone around the world who wants to gain basic science training to enter the biofuels industry.


Malama Composites joins with Spain’s Green Comm Racing at America’s Cup World Series in San Diego

Malama Composites, manufacturers of high performance polyurethane foams made from bio-based renewable resources, announced today that it has joined Spain’s Green Comm Racing Team at the America’s Cup, the world’s most prestigious sailing competition, in order to promote environmental innovation and technology within the sailing industry. 

“Our materials enable manufacturers to produce products that are stronger, lighter, faster and far more environmentally responsible than alternative core materials.  Our partnership with the Green Comm Racing Team provides a fantastic venue to premier the next generation of sustainable materials, and we are honored to be a part of it,” said David Saltman, Chairman and CEO of Malama Composites.

Francesco De Leo, Executive Chairman of Green Comm Racing, stated, “This is a unique opportunity to rally some of the best minds in the world behind a very exciting goal: designing and manufacturing the ultimate renewable energy machine – a winning America’s Cup boat.  Our goal is to promote a green agenda by leveraging the media impact of one of pinnacle sport events in the world.”

Malama Composites develops and produces rigid polyurethane foams made from soy polyols and other renewable resources.  The resulting panels serve as a light-weight structural core material in the manufacturing of everything from boat hulls to wind turbine blades, movie sets to surfboards.  While cost and performance competitive with alternative, petroleum-based foams, Malama’s products contain no toxic resins or additives, and can be easily reused or recycled.

Francesco De Leo is a thought leader in the field of communication technology with a particular focus on green IT.  He was the former Managing Director of Telecom Italia and Head of Strategy and International operations at Wind.  The Green Comm Racing Team is made of a group of young sailors and executives who see the America’s Cup as an opportunity to advance green innovation in the sailing industry by leveraging the media impact of one of the most high profile sporting events in the world.

Click here for some amazing photos and here for video. 

Live from San Diego – America’s Cup Webcam

How to follow the America’s Cup World Series in San Diego


More wireless EV charging news from Qualcomm

On Thursday Qualcomm Incorporated announced the first Wireless Electric Vehicle Charging (WEVC) trial for London in what is a UK and industry-leading initiative.  Qualcomm is collaborating with the UK Government, as well as the Mayor of London’s office and Transport for London (TfL) to deliver the trial.  Earlier in the week Qualcomm announced it had acquired substantially all of the technology and other assets of HaloIPT, a leading provider of wireless charging technology for electric road vehicles.  See my post of November 8th.

The pre-commercial trial is expected to start in early 2012 and will involve as many as 50 electric vehicles (EVs).  The trial will use Qualcomm wireless inductive power transfer technology that enables high-efficiency power transfer across a large air gap.  It is very easy to use: the driver simply parks the vehicle in the usual way and the system automatically aligns for power transfer, making parking easier and charging hassle free.

The trial, which will be based partially in Tech City, the East London cluster receiving the strong support of the Prime Minister, is planned to leverage the Tech City entrepreneurial community and encourage companies to innovate around services and applications, in order to enhance the smart EV experience.

Prime Minister David Cameron said, “This wireless charging technology is a giant leap forward for the electric car industry and I am delighted that London businesses will be among the first to benefit from the trial.”

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said, “In my quest to deliver cleaner air for the capital, I want London to be the electric car epicenter of Europe. Encouraging a massive uptake in electric driving is key to this vision of becoming a zero-emission city.”

“Qualcomm is very pleased to be participating in the London WEVC pre-commercial trial, which builds on the existing trials of electric vehicles sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles in the UK,” said Andrew Gilbert, executive vice president of European Innovation Development at Qualcomm. “Wireless charging eradicates the EV plug-in cable and makes charging of electric vehicles simple and easy for drivers.”

Addison Lee, the UK’s largest minicab company, and Chargemaster plc, the leading European operator of advanced EV charging infrastructure, have also agreed to participate in the WEVC London trial.

Qualcomm is not the only high tech giant with a wireless plug-in connection.  In March Google announced a trial of a Plugless Power charging station for vehicles at its Mountain View, CA headquarters.


Qualcomm acquires wireless electric vehicle charging technology

Qualcomm Incorporated today announced that it has acquired substantially all of the technology and other assets of HaloIPT, a leading provider of wireless charging technology for electric road vehicles.  All members of the HaloIPT team have joined Qualcomm’s European Innovation Development group based in the UK. 

“Qualcomm has been investing in wireless power for a number of years and the HaloIPT acquisition will further strengthen our technology and patent portfolio,” said Andrew Gilbert, executive vice president of European Innovation Development for Qualcomm. “Building on 20 years of development and innovation in wireless power at The University of Auckland and its commercialization company Auckland UniServices Ltd, the HaloIPT team, in a relatively short period of the time, had established itself as a leading developer in wireless electric road vehicle charging — with HaloIPT winning industry acclamation and awards.”

“We are immensely proud of what has been achieved by our team at HaloIPT over the past 18 months,” said John Miles, Executive Chairman of HaloIPT and a Director at Arup.  ”In that short space of time, we have brought world-class university research to the attention of the global automotive industry and, through really innovative design, demonstrated the potential for wireless charging in front of several of the world’s leading OEMs.  That has been a terrific achievement.”

In addition to the HaloIPT transaction, Qualcomm and Auckland UniServices, the commercialization company of the University of Auckland, have committed to a long-term research and development arrangement to promote continued innovation in the field of wireless charging for electric road vehicles by way of inductive power transfer.

“UniServices is proud to see the development of technology for the wireless charging of electric vehicles become an important area for Qualcomm,” said Peter Lee, chief executive officer, UniServices.  ”We believe Qualcomm is well positioned to make available this technology to third parties for the wireless charging of electric road vehicles, and the relationship will provide opportunities for continued research and development of this technology.”

Bruce Bigelow’s article in XconomyQualcomm Buys HaloIPT (and Patents) for Wireless Charging Technology


Test drive the Nissan Leaf at SnowJam 2011

What do electric vehicles have to do with winter sports?  Beats me.  But while all of the Shaun White want-to-be’s are checking out snowboards at SnowJam 2011 you can take a run in the new all-electric Nissan Leaf

The ‘drive electric tour’ will provide the opportunity to learn all about the Nissan LEAF.  You will be guided through several display areas, have the opportunity to talk with LEAF experts, and explore the many innovations from Nissan including:

· The Nissan LEAF battery system and charging details
· The “sexy science” of the Nissan LEAF and how it compares to other vehicles
· Staying in-touch with your LEAF through your phone or computer
· Fuel efficiency and costs
· Environmental impact
· Meet Nissan LEAF’s helpful accessories
· 100 miles is more than enough!

But the best part of the ‘drive electric tour’ is that you can drive the car for yourself!  You will be able to drive the (more…)


Sapphire Energy receives USDA loan guarantee for algae biofuel facility

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA has issued a loan guarantee that will allow biofuels firm Sapphire Energy to construct a facility in New Mexico to produce “green crude” oil from algae which can be refined into transportation fuel.  The project is intended to advance American efforts to provide renewable commercial-scale biofuels, increasing energy security and reducing dependence on foreign oil.  The project is expected to create 60 jobs in the community of Columbus, NM.

“The Obama Administration is committed to providing support for renewable energy production which will safeguard national security and create jobs in rural America,” said Vilsack. “This project represents another step in the effort to assist the nation’s advanced biofuel industry produce energy in commercial quantities from sustainable rural resources.”

La Jolla-based Sapphire Energy intends to design, build and operate a $135 million integrated algal biorefinery (IABR) in Columbus, N.M., for the production of advanced biofuel that is a “drop-in” replacement for petroleum derived diesel and jet fuel.  The IABR will be capable of producing 100 barrels of refined algal oil per day, equivalent to at least one million gallons per year.  The oil will be shipped to the United States Gulf Coast to be refined by Sapphire’s refinery partner, Dynamic Fuels, located in Geismar, LA.

The funding is provided through USDA’s Biorefinery Assistance Program. On December 3, 2009, USDA issued a conditional commitment for an 80 percent guarantee on a $54.5 million loan.  The loan closing and issuance of the Loan Note Guarantee for this project took place on October 21, 2011.

Today’s announcement is in concert with the objectives of the Renewable Fuel Standard, known as RFS2, which reaffirmed the goal of producing, by 2022, 36 billion gallons of biofuels to include 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels.

Producing fuel from algae is seen as one way to provide for domestically produced fuel for commercial and military use.  USDA is partnering with the Department of the Navy as it embraces a biofuel future.  USDA has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help the commercial airline utilize biofuels as jet fuel.  Under the MOU, the USDA and FAA are working together with the airline industry to develop appropriate feed stocks that can be most efficiently processed into jet fuel.  Doing so will decrease the industry’s current dependence on foreign oil and help stabilize fuel costs in the long run.

Sapphire Energy Video



SDG&E joins with Chula Vista schools to launch 25th clean energy project

How do you NOT drive a car 8.4 million miles?  The new High Tech Elementary and High Tech Middle Chula Vista students know. 

They recently helped do just that by adding a San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)-owned solar system to their school’s rooftop — as well as adding solar to their curriculum.

This work marks the 25th project like this for SDG&E’s “Sustainable Communities Program,” which now totals three megawatts of clean energy. This energy goes back onto the grid which benefits each of the project’s surrounding community. The three megawatts of clean energy is equal to: NOT driving a car 8.4 million miles, powering 2,000 homes, saving 6.4 million pounds of greenhouse gases each year, planting 98,000 trees or removing 722 cars from the road.

Flip that switch!

Dave Geier, vice president of Electric Operations for SDG&E helped the High Tech Elementary and High Tech Middle Chula Vista students flip the switch for their rooftop solar system, marking the third solar project SDG&E has done with the charter school.

The effort includes a curriculum where students learn about renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The schools are seeking LEED Platinum certification from the US Green Building Council and were designed to be nearly 26 percent more energy efficient than required by California Building Codes. Because of these efforts, Geier also presented the school with the “SDG&E Sustainable Champions Award” and a check for $83,000 from the energy efficiency incentives the school was able to receive.

Sustainable communities are growing

Geier spoke to hundreds of students in the audience about how SDG&E is creating sustainable communities (more…)


Special San Diego Screening: Revenge of the Electric Car

In Revenge of the Electric Car, director Chris Paine (Who Killed the Electric Car?) takes his film crew behind the closed doors of Nissan, GM, and the Silicon Valley start-up Tesla Motors to chronicle the story of the global resurgence of electric cars.  A special screening of the documentary will be held November 11th at 6:00pm at the Landmark, Ken Cinema, 4061 Adams Avenue, San Diego.

Joel Pointon, Electric Transportation Manager of San Diego Gas & Electric, David Almeida, Coordinator for the Caifornia PEV Rebate Program (CCSE), and Greg Newhouse, Chairperson of the local Clean Cities Coalition for San Diego, will appear in person to introduce the film and for Q&A after the 6:00pm show.

Cast: Tim Robbins, Bob Lutz, Carlos Ghosn, Elon Musk, Greg “Gadget” Abbott, Danny DeVito, Jon Favreau, Anthony Kiedis, Stephen Colbert, Talulah Riley.   Run time 90 minutes

Click for a hot trailer of Revenge of the Electric Car

Link to Landmark Ken Cinema



GUEST AUTHOR: California Is Making History by Leveling Its Demand Curve

SIERRA MARTINEZ is an energy attorney and analyst in the San Francisco office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Clean Energy Efficiency Continues To Displace Expensive Dirty Power Plants

Some skeptics of energy efficiency claim that energy efficiency never really avoids the need for new power plants.  They claim that energy efficiency might reduce our energy consumption in theory, but not in practice.  Well, the good news is that there’s new evidence from the California Public Utilities Commission showing that energy efficiency is actually displacing the need to build power plants.  So much power is being saved, in fact, that California is embarking on a historic path: Instead of increasing the total amount of electricity we use, which has been the general trend since Edison’s time, energy efficiency will reduce the total demand for electricity.  (This efficiency will also provide a significant boost to economic growth, I might add.)  In the graphic below, you can see that energy efficiency is actually bending the demand curve downward. 
              Electricity Demand in California ISO From 2008 to 2020[1]

California is in the process of determining how many power plants it should allow private utilities to build over the next decade.  The Public Utilities Commission analyzes how much energy California is expected to consume over the next decade, and (more…)


FREE RIDE: The first all-electric carsharing program in North American

car2go (Electric Car Share Program in San Diego) is opening up memberships today for free (usually $35).  Sign up now and also receive 30 minutes of free drive time with the promotional code PLUGIN.  Click for offer.

car2go is a groundbreaking mobility program redefining transportation in urban areas. German auto giant Daimler has selected San Diego to launch the first all-electric carsharing program in North American. 

car2go provides a fleet of free-floating, self-service Smart fortwo cars distributed all over the city.  The operating area ranges as far north as Pacific Beach and west to I-15.  You may roam up to 200 miles from San Diego, but your usage must begin and end anywhere within the operating area.  The car2go all-electric vehicles can be accessed “on-demand” or reserved for up to 24 hours in advance.  For on-demand access, members simply swipe their membership card against the vehicle’s windshield.

Unlike traditional carsharing programs, car2go allows its members to use the vehicle for as long as they like, without committing to a specific return time or location. They can have one-way rentals and finish the trip in any authorized parking space within the car2go operating area.  Attractive “by-the-minute” rates include costs for insurance, parking and maintenance.  Click here to complete details.  And here for a 3 minute training  video.  And here for a video of the Smart fortwo zippin’ around San Diego.

San Diego was selected to be the base for the first North American car-sharing fleet of 300 all-electrics for a variety of reasons.  As early-adapters San Diegans have made our region #1 in the U.S. for EVs with hundreds of Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts humming around town.  Charging stations are sprouting in anticipation of thousands of new users. 

You will have to wait until November 18th to pilot one of these two-person-mobiles.  You can starting thinking now about all the ways car2go will change the way you roll.  As a member a 10 minute trip from Little Italy to Petco Park will cost $3.50 plus tax.   You finish the trip by parking in any legal parking space on the street or in specially designated car2go areas.  The transaction is done.  You do not feed the parking meter (a special deal with the city) and you don’t fork over $20 to ACE Parking.  Of course if you are rolling with your posse a two-seater is going to limit your entourage.

If you are considering purchasing a smart car you can kick the tires at smart center San Diego at 4750 Kearny Mesa Road.  It’s like the cute little brother of Mercedes-Benz of San Diego at the same address.  Don’t kick the tires too hard.


GUEST AUTHOR: The Energy Trap

Tom Murphy is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.  His blog, Do the Math, takes an astrophysicist’s-eye view of societal issues relating to energy production, climate change, and economic growth.

Many Do the Math posts have touched on the inevitable cessation of growth and on the challenge we will face in developing a replacement energy infrastructure once our fossil fuel inheritance is spent. The focus has been on long-term physical constraints, and not on the messy details of our response in the short-term. But our reaction to a diminishing flow of fossil fuel energy in the short-term will determine whetherwe transition to a sustainable but technological existence or allow ourselves to collapse. One stumbling block in particular has me worried. I call it The Energy Trap.

In brief, the idea is that once we enter a decline phase in fossil fuel availability—first in petroleum—our growth-based economic system will struggle to cope with a contraction of its very lifeblood. Fuel prices will skyrocket, some individuals and exporting nations will react by hoarding, and energy scarcity will quickly become the new norm. The invisible hand of the market will slap us silly demanding a new energy infrastructure based on non-fossil solutions. But here’s the rub. The construction of that shiny new infrastructure requires not just money, but…energy. And that’s the very commodity in short supply. Will we really be willing to sacrifice additional energy in the short term—effectively steepening the decline—for a long-term energy plan? It’s a trap!

When I first encountered the concept of peak oil, I was most distressed about the economic implications. In part, this was prompted by David Goodstein’s book Out of Gas, which highlighted the potential for global panic in reaction to peak oil—making the gas lines associated with the temporary oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 look like warm-up acts. Because I knew Professor Goodstein personally, and held him in high regard as a solid physicist, I took his message seriously. Extrapolating his vision of a global reaction to peak oil, I imagined that the prospect of a decades-long decline in available energy—while we strained to institute a replacement infrastructure—would destroy confidence in short-term economic growth, thus destroying investment and crashing markets. The market relies on investor confidence—which, in some sense, makes it a con job, since “con” is short for confidence. If that confidence is shattered on a global scale, what happens next?

I still consider economic panic to be a distinctly possible eventuality, but psychology can be hard to predict. Market optimists would see the tremendous investment potential of a new energy infrastructure as an antidote against such an outbreak. Given this uncertainty, let’s shy away from economic prognostication and look at a purely physical dimension to the problem—namely, the Energy Trap.

Energy Return on Energy Invested

Our goal will be to quantitatively assess the Energy Trap, and see if there is any substance to the idea. We will rely on a concept that has acquired a central role in evaluating our energy future. This is energy return on energy invested, or EROEI.

In order to utilize energy, we must exert some energy to secure the source and prepare it for use. In order to burn wood in our fireplace, we (or someone) must chop down a tree, cut it into logs, and split the large logs. To drive our gasoline-powered car, we must expend energy finding the oil, drilling and possibly pumping the oil, then refining and distributing the gasoline. To collect solar energy, we must invest energy to fabricate the solar panels and associated electronics. The result is expressed as a ratio of energy-out:energy-in. Anything less than the break-even ratio of 1:1 means that the source provides no net energy (a drain, in fact), and is not worth pursuing for energy purposes—unless the form/convenience of that specific energy is otherwise unavailable.

In its early days, oil frequently yielded an EROEI in excess of 100:1, meaning that 1% or less of the energy contained in a barrel of oil had to be expended to deliver that barrel of oil. Not a bad bargain. Oil production today more typically has an EROEI around 20:1, while tar sands and oil shale tend to be about 5:1 and 3:1, respectively. By contrast, it is debatable whether corn ethanol exceeds break-even: it may optimistically be as high as 1.4:1. Switching from conventional oil to corn ethanol would be like switching from a diet of bacon, eggs, and butter to a desperate survival diet of shoe leather and tree bark. Other approaches to biofuels, like sugar cane ethanol, can have EROEI as high as 8:1.

To round out the introduction, coal typically has an EROEI around 50–85:1, and natural gas tends to come in around 20–40:1, though falling below the lower end of this range as the easy fields are depleted. Meanwhile, solar photovoltaics are estimated to require 3–4 years’ worth of energy output to fabricate, including the frames and associated electronics systems. Assuming a 30–40 year lifetime, this translates into an EROEI around 10:1. Wind is estimated to have EROEI around 20:1, and new nuclear installations are expected to come in at approximately 15:1. These are all positive net-energy approaches, which is the good news.

The Inevitable Fossil Fuel Decline

Let’s explore what happens as we try to compensate for an energy decline with an alternative resource having modest EROEI. On the upslope of our fossil fuel bonanza, we saw a characteristic annual growth rate of around 3% per year. The asymmetric Seneca Effect notwithstanding, a logistic evolution of the resource would result in a symmetric rate of contraction on the downslope: 3% per year. I borrow a graphic from the post on the meaning of “sustainable” to illustrate the rationale for expecting an era of decline for a one-time finite resource.


On the long view, the fossil fuel age is a blip, with a down side mirroring the (more fun) up side.

We could use any number for the decline rate in our analysis, but I’ll actually soften the effect to a 2% annual decline to illustrate that we run into problems even at a modest rate of decline. By itself, a 2% decline year after year—while sounding mild—would send our growth-based economy into (more…)


Achates Power Opposed-Piston Engine Sets New Benchmark for Fuel Efficiency

The frequent references to San Diego as a global leader in cleantech are usually illustrated by regional activities in solar, wind, water, smart grid, biofuels and energy efficiency.  A perusal of the CleanTECH San Diego company database also reveals a mini-Mo Town of 38 ventures in the Transport Technology category.  Achates Power is in the pole position.

Since 2004 Achates Power has been working to develop a fundamentally better internal combustion engine. Today the company announced its latest results, which include a 20 percent fuel efficiency gain when compared to one of the world’s best medium-duty clean diesel engines.  Also announced was an overall calibration that meets the stringent U.S. EPA 2010 emissions standards.  Bruce Bigelow of Xconomy describes their recent achievements in his article, Achates Power Cites “Huge” Improvement in Diesel Fuel Savings, Emissions”. 

Achates Power has raised over $50 million to rev-up their efforts to build the internal combustion engine equivalent of Doctor Dolittle’s pushmi-pullyu.  The opportunity is worthy of their effort.  They note that in the U.S. under 5% of all vehicles consume over 26% of all road transportation fuel.  Therefore, a more fuel efficient solution will provide a huge payoff for fleet operators and anyone with lungs.

Take a video virtual tour of Achates Power and its San Diego-based headquarters, which houses more than 50 engineers and scientists.