Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Fuel-Cell Microbes' Double Duty: Treat Water, Make Energy

Wastewater treatment consumes an enormous amount of energy. Why not put bacteria to work to offset the energy requirements? This novel idea--a single-chambered microbial fuel cell--is being prototyped through a grant from the National Science Foundation. In this press release, NSF - OLPA - PR 04-021: Fuel-Cell Microbes' Double Duty: Treat Water, Make Energy - , a strong case is made for an approach that could greatly reduce the $25 billion a year that it costs to treat about 33 billions gallons of domestic wastewater in the United States.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Hydrogen Economy: A Bad Idea?

In this article, A Hydrogen Economy Is a Bad Idea, David Morris argues that looking towards a hydrogen economy is probably a bad idea. The question of where the hydrogen comes from is a key concern. The petroleum and nuclear power industries would love to play a key role in the game--creating hydrogen by means of the same greenhouse-gas producing and toxic-waste producing methods they've been using for years.

Generating, storing, transporting and distributing the hydrogen to energize fuel cells may create more problems and inefficiencies than it solves, Morris reasons, and if the centralized distribution models that we've used for years for fuel are applied to the problem, that may be the case.

Alternatively, a decentralized means of generating hydrogen might sidestep the significant obstacles in producing hydrogen for powering homes and vehicles. A company in New York, Plug Power Fuel-Cell Systems manufactures residential units that burn natural gas or use other forms of energy to produce electricity, heat, pure water, and hydrogen. One of the partners in this effort is Honda and as they are set to rollout the hydrogen-powered Honda FCX during 2004, the potential for fueling these vehicles from a home-based system seems promising. If I'm reading the specs correctly, it also looks as though the fuel cell systems from Plug Power can be coupled with solar and wind power systems, which could alleviate many of the concerns that David Morris expresses in his article. More on this development as I investigate further.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

State Incentives for Renewable Energy

While the federal government may not be doing much to make renewable energy more attractive to the average citizen, many states have initiated their own programs to help offset the costs of installing solar energy panels, purchasing a gas-electric hybrid vehicle, or erecting a wind turbine. These incentives sometimes come in the form of state tax credits or as rebates. California alone provided $2.6 million in tax credits in 2001 to residents who installed solar power systems. As an example of the potential savings, a solar project tagged at $24,000 is eligible for a rebate of $10,730--representing close to a 50 percent reduction in costs.

How does your state rate? If you're wondering what incentives are available to you, consult the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) for an easy-to-use, up-to-date list of programs.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Solar energy's cloudy past

Solar energy, like many technologies (DVD, hybrid vehicles), showed promise years before it gained widespread acceptance. In the case of solar energy, it has taken about 50 years for manufacturing processes and supporting technology to demonstrate the practicality of this infinitely renewable energy source. Trouble is that at the moment other nations (Germany and Japan) are leapfrogging the U.S., capitalizing on the benefits of solar power while Amercans puzzle over an energy policy (enacted by the present short-sighted administration) that leans heavily toward coal and petroleum. This historical perspective on the slow, steady advances in solar energy, Solar energy's cloudy past / Advocates say 50-year-old industry is finally in a position to heat up, shows that it's really here--if only we recognize it.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Scientists Advance Hydrogen Tech

Imagine compact fuel cells that can be readily installed in your basement, offering a neat replacement for that furnace sucking up fuel oil like a drunken monkey swilling cheap vodka. Then imagine that one of the prime obstacles to clean fuel cell development--the generation of hydrogen without reliance on fossil fuels--can be overcome by using corn-based ethanol, giving farmers in the Midwest a potential source of new revenues. Research advances discussed in this article, Scientists Advance Hydrogen Tech point to a renewable model for hydrogen-based fuel cells that might lead the way to cleaner motoring and home heating.

Clean energy part of `Green Wave'

Environmental technologies make economic sense, so much so that the Treasurer of the State of California has announced plans to invest pension money as part of a `Green Wave' initiative. With $1.5 billion of the state's pension money being invested in environmentally screened funds and financing to develop clean technologies, Angelides hopes to not only profit from positive growth in this sector, but also help generate job growth. The economic advantages of taking an ecocentric energy path are becoming clear to a widening circle of investors and financial professionals.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Oil and Democracy Don't Mix

Many reasons exist for reducing the stranglehold that oil addiction has on our society. In the frenzied quest for the next fix, social justice issues and support for genuine democracy take a back seat to keeping the flow of petroleum moving, as this article, Oil and Democracy Don't Mix, points out. This situation doesn't promise to get any better until we collectively go through an extensive detox, embrace renewable sources of power and end the century-long power struggle to dominate access to a dwindling resource.