How Puerto Rico’s Energy Sector Can Revitalize the Island’s Struggling Economy.

by Byron R. Núñez

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has more than $70 billion of debt, most of which can be attributed to the United States’ decision to cut corporate tax breaks. The current financial crisis has created a mass exodus by U.S. companies and people from the Island. To ameliorate the situation, President Barack Obama signed the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which led to the creation of a committee design to manage the island’s finances. This economic instability has forced Puerto Rico’s energy sector to reinvent itself and become more cost-effective and efficient. Currently, Puerto Ricans pay two to three times more for electricity than average Americans. The strongest factor for the island’s high energy costs is that 80% of the energy used on the island comes from imported petroleum as the island itself does not produce nor refine crude oil. Sustainable energy is key to Puerto Rico’s future as the island hopes to comply with a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) that hopes to supply 20% of electricity with green energy by 2035. One company that is hoping to revitalize the island’s struggling economy though the energy sector is Green Kinetic Power (GKP), LLC. Continue reading

Scotland, London Propose New Low Emission Zones

by Kieran McVeigh

Scotland may become the latest country in Europe to institute low emission zones in their major urban centers. In January of 2017 the Scottish ministers proposed piloting a “low emissions zone” in the most polluted areas of Scottish cities to reduce pollution and help meet Scotland’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. These goals are among the most aggressive in the world with an end goal of an 80% reduction in green house gases by 2050. The proposed low emission zone would prevent vehicles that create higher then average amounts of pollution like trucks or “lorries” as they’re referred across the pond, from driving in the low emission parts of the city. Continue reading

Clearer Waters Ahead for Blue Energy

by Justin Wenig

A captivating article published by an international team of scientists in the August issue of Nature magazine could make blue energy a powerhouse sustainable energy source in the near future. Blue energy, or osmotic power generation, refers to energy derived from the difference in salt concentration between freshwater and saltwater. At river estuaries, where river water and sea water meet, blue energy can be captured when molecules from the saltwater side move toward the freshwater side and spin a turbine.

Unfortunately, scientists have long struggled to develop a commercially viable generator with a positive return on investment. Case in point, the world’s first commercial osmotic power generator, commissioned by a Norwegian company Statkraft, could only produce enough energy to power one-tenth of one electric car battery before it was shunned in 2014. The cost? Ten years and over $100 million lost at sea.   Continue reading

Cities and District Energy

by Judy Li

As part of a special National Geographic series on energy issues, Christina Nunez published an interesting piece about district energy, the distribution of thermal energy through a network of underground pipes to heat and cool a group of buildings, and how it is being harnessed for sustainable energy development. District energy is widely used and has a long history; many cities around the world have extensive subterranean systems built decades ago. Continue reading

Is Diesel Made from Air and Water be a Green?

by Jesse Crabtree

Audi is teaming up with German energy company Sunfire to make fuel for internal-combustion engines and it is literally pulling the fuel out of thin air. This diesel-like substance, called “Blue Crude,” is a string of hydrocarbons formed by combining atmospheric CO2 with hydrogen atoms obtained by water electrolysis. According to Audi, the process produces fuel at an overall efficiency of 70% and is meant to be powered by renewable energy. Furthermore, one of its main draws is that, with the exception of the electrolysis, all of the infrastructure for production and consumption of this product has already been tried and tested. Although it only releases the CO2 initially reclaimed from the atmosphere, the fact that Blue Crude does not totally sequester any emissions gives it a shaky hold on the term ‘green.’ Thus, Blue Crude’s ‘green’ status depends on renewable energies being used to power its electrolysis step. Either way, Blue Crude relies on several important factors—namely low energy prices and new legislation—in order to even be feasible.

Continue reading

UPS Delivers More While Using Less : It’s a Rolling Laboratory

by Tashi Mitra

UPS, the global leader in express parcel delivery companies, is faced with the challenge of delivering millions of parcels all over the world, everyday, while trying to consume less energy. How does UPS meet this challenge?

UPS achieves this by focusing on:

  1. Alternative fuels and advanced technologies
  2. Fuel supply
  3. Fleet – both ground and air

UPS has created a Rolling Laboratory, which has implemented this program in nine countries, across 5088 vehicles and saved usage of 60 million gallons of conventional fuel since 2000. The Rolling Laboratory has traveled 505 million miles since 2000 and plans to travel 1 billion miles by 2017. Alternative fuels of CNG, Hybrid – Electric and hydraulic are used in suburban operating situations (range   100 miles average), Electric and ethanol are used in City Centers (range less than 60 miles), Propane is used for rural vehicles (range 100 + miles) and LNG/CNG/Biomethane used for long hauls (range 400 – 600 miles average). Continue reading

Solar Cells for Bacteria?

by Emil Morhardt

Non-photosynthetic bacteria (most of them) are capable of all sorts of chemical syntheses, especially when bioengineered. But they all require an energy source. What if that source could be light? The obvious thing to do is to implant them with photosynthetic pathways, but this wa-a-ay beyond current bioengineering capabilities, so maybe it would be possible just to hand them energy from miniature solar cells swimming around in the same solution they are living in. This seemingly highly improbable situation has just been accomplished by Kelsey Sakimoto and co-workers at Berkeley to facilitate the production of acetic acid from carbon dioxide by the non-photosynthetic bacteria, Moorella thermoacetica. This uses up the greenhouse gas CO2 while producing a basic chemical that can be “upgraded to high-value products by wild-type and genetically engineered organisms.”

The system works by the bacteria precipitating cadmium sulfide nanoparticles out of the solution in which they reside, When light strikes these nano-particles they carry out photosynthesis, absorbing a photon to produce an electron and hole pair. The electron is then used to synthesize acetic acid from the CO2 in solution. The authors think that this system has the potential to exceed the utility of natural photosynthesis. An additional advantage is that unlike natural photosynthesis which results in biological molecules such as sugars and cellulose which then need further processing to be useful for other purposes, this system just produces acetic acid which is of no utility to the bsctreria, so it remains available for collection in the solution without further processing.

Sakimoto, K.K., Wong, A.B., Yang, P., 2016. Self-photosensitization of nonphotosynthetic bacteria for solar-to-chemical production. Science 351, 74-77.

Hydrogen Hungry Bacteria Bring Artificial Leaf One Step Closer to Viability

by Liza Farr

In 2011, Daniel Nocera engineered an artificial leaf that uses only sun and water to produce energy (Chandler, Sep 30, 2011). The leaf was made of silicon solar plates with different catalytic materials bonded on each side (Chandler, Sep 30, 2011). When the plate is placed in water and exposed to sunlight, one side produces hydrogen bubbles, and one side oxygen bubbles, which can be stored and used for energy (Chandler, Sep 30, 2011). Although this was an important innovation in renewable energy, major shortcomings of the invention was that it produced hydrogen, which does not easily fit into our existing energy infrastructure, rather than liquid fuel. Recently, Nocera has collaborated with biologists at Harvard University to engineer bacteria that convert hydrogen into an alcohol-based fuel (Nunez, Feb 9, 2015). Continue reading

Biofuel a Viable Future?

by Ali Siddiqui

An article by Justin Gillis for The New York Times discusses a new report published by World Resources Institute, a global research organization based in Washington, that suggests that biofuels are not the direction policy makers should be heading when considering alternative energy. Biofuels are fuels created by plant matter. Timothy D. Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton and primary author of this report, was quoted in this article to have said that they were an “inefficient way to convert sunlight to fuel”. Continue reading

California’s Investment in Clean-Tech is Paying Off

by Melanie Paty

A recent article on Renewable Energy World by Bloomberg’s Mark Chediak and Miachel B. Marois proves that Governor Jerry Brown’s goal to “show that decarbonizing is consistent with economic abundance financial stability” is becoming a reality. Since Brown came to office in 1975, he has been pushing for policies that support green technology and today, California has the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation. Within the next 15 years, Brown has proposed increasing electricity supply by renewables from 30% to 50%, reducing petroleum use in cars and trucks by 50%, increasing energy efficiency of existing buildings by 200%, and putting 1.5 million zero emission cars on the roads. While most governments are hopping on the sustainability bandwagon in recent years, California’s early investment seems to be paying off. Continue reading