Hydrogen fuel cell train offers pollution-free rail trips PDF Print E-mail

Hydrogen fuel cells aren't gaining a huge amount of traction in cars, where there's a steady move toward electric. But what about regional railways, where long ranges and a lack of powered rails makes electric trains impractical? Alstom thinks that makes plenty of sense -- the French firm has introduced one of the first hydrogen fuel cell trains, the Coradia iLint. The 300-passenger locomotive can travel up to 497 miles at a reasonably brisk 87 miles per hour, all the while spewing nothing more than water. Hydrogen gives it the freedom to run on non-electrified rails, and it's considerably quieter than diesels -- helped in part by batteries that store unused energy.

There are plans to put it into service relatively quickly. The first Coradia iLint should reach a rail line in northern Germany in December 2017, and it won't be surprising if other customers follow suit. The biggest challenge is infrastructure. Train service operators will have to upgrade all their relevant garages and stations with hydrogen filling systems, which could be more than a little expensive when spread across an entire rail network

Methanol Economy: Opportunities in India PDF Print E-mail

NITI Aayog has already set up an Expert Group which will draw up a roadmap for India to tap methanol.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. Express Photo by Ganesh Shirsekar 15.April.2016, Mumbai

With India’s strong stand on climate change and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to use renewable sources of energy, it seems India is taking methanol much more seriously now. At a NITI Aayog seminar on Methanol Economy earlier this month, Minister of Coal and Petroleum Dharmendra Pradhan appealed to PSUs to organise startup funds for research in the field, while Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari pushed for an immediate ‘leapfrog’ into the methanol economy. India has even signed a Statement of Intent with the Methanol Institute of the US to further work on the technology.

Incidentally, NITI Aayog has already set up an Expert Group which will draw up a roadmap for India to tap methanol. The country depends on fossil fuels and petroleum for 80-90% of its energy requirements and around Rs. 4.5 lakh crore is spent every year importing oil. But as Nitin Gadkari said India aiming to bring down its import bill for petroleum to zero. Also, fossil fuels in addition to being non-renewable resources are harmful for the environment.


But why methanol as the alternative fuel? Professor G K Satyprakash, author of Beyond Oil and Gas: Methanol Economy and an expert on methanol, calls it the cleanest fuel known to mankind. “Methanol is the simplest form of alcohol — a single carbon solution — since it has no carbon carbon bond they do not emit particulate matter making the fuel clean,” he has been quoted as saying.

It is easy for India to switch to a methanol economy. Methanol can be easily produced from renewable sources like agricultural waste, forest residue and naptha and biomass waste can be converted through gasification. With small, relatively inexpensive, modifications to the engine, petrol and diesel cars can be made methanol compatible. In fact, if the percentage of methanol is under 15 per cent, even existing engines can run the fuel. It is only M-85 (which is 85% methanol and 15 % gasoline) that needs engine modification. Also, methanol production can be an effective waste management method and effectively use the 1 million tonnes of biomass India produces every month to generate fuel.

Methanol is slowly gaining prominence across the world. Israel recently started using methanol as a fuel, while it has been popular in Brazil for many years. China is the largest producer of methanol and has seen a rapid expansion in consumption and production in the last decade. “Today, the largest usage for methanol in China is direct fuel burning. Chinese have started putting 15% methanol in gasoline. They are also running cars trucks and buses on 100% methanol,” Gregory Dolan, CEO, Methanol Institute USA, said in a television interview.

Pradhan thinks a methanol-based economy can create a lot of employment and entrepreneurship in India. V K Saraswat, Member NITI Aayog and chairperson of the committee on methanol, said India should actively explore methanol and DME as possible long-term substitutes of oil and natural gas as the high amounts of agricultural waste can be beneficially converted to power the country. In a recent paper, the NITI Aayog said: “It would provide a feasible and safe way to store energy, make available a convenient liquid fuel, and assure mankind an unlimited source of hydrocarbons while at the same time mitigating the dangers of global warming.”

There is the added benefit that methanol produced here can be exported to neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan which have comparable economies and with similar energy circumstances. Investing in a methanol economy might be the required push for the energy sector, considering the costs of plunging in new technology and implementing it in a nation as big as India it still is a daunting task.

Nitin Gadkari pushes for leapfrogging into methanol economy Read more at: http://economictimes.ind PDF Print E-mail
NEW DELHI: Can India kick its habit of depending on costly import of petroleum products by getting hooked onto a new form of industrial alcohol called methanol? 

The government's key think tank the National Institute for Transforming India or the NITI Aayog is seriously exploring deploying methanol as a possible way to achieve energy independence for India. A radical idea, it believes, also offers a solution to climate change. 

Is wood alcohol the solution to India's huge .. 

How a former Wal-Mart executive is helping the Air Force cut energy costs PDF Print E-mail

Wal-Mart is one of the nation’s largest private energy consumers, having to power millions of square feet of store space.

So when the Obama administration wanted to cut energy bills for the Air Force — which consumes more energy than any other U.S. agency — it turned to the person who had led similar efforts at Wal-Mart for six years.

As assistant secretary for installations, environment and energy since 2014, Miranda Ballentine has used her private-sector experience to help the Air Force keep its energy costs down.

The Air Force spent $8.5 billion on energy in 2015 —  about 86% of that on jet fuel. But without the changes put in place since 2010, those costs would have been $1.9 billion higher, she said.

The Times spoke with Ballentine about the Air Force’s energy reduction efforts and how they might translate to the private sector. Here’s an edited excerpt.

What makes the Air Force the largest single consumer of energy in the federal government?

We have around 5,000 aircraft … more than the collective aircraft fleets of American Airlines, United, Delta, Southwest, FedEx and UPS combined.

We have about 615 million square feet of building space. If you added up … all of the U.S. Wal-Mart formats, it’s around 615 million square feet.

We have over 80,000 non-tactical vehicles. That’s about five times the number of Yellow Cabs in New York. And it just takes a lot of energy, a lot of BTUs, to power all that stuff. 

What are some of the ways the Air Force is trying to reduce energy usage?

If you can imagine a three-circle Venn diagram, the first piece … is reliable and resilient energy. That means a steady flow of energy, whether it’s jet fuel or electrons, and resiliency is all about the ability to continue function in the face of disruptions.

If you drew a second circle … you would have cost-effective energy. And then if you drew a third circle … you would have cleaner sources of energy. So really what we’re after is the center of those circles, that sweet spot of more reliable, cost-effective cleaner sources of power both for our aircraft and for our facilities.

Are there advantages to the Air Force of using clean energy beyond just being environmentally friendly?

In the resilient circle, our historic approach has been to put a diesel generator on the back of mission critical buildings. That approach is not necessarily more cost effective nor is it necessarily cleaner.

And, of course, it’s diesel, and any fossil fuel comes with a supply chain. So if a determined adversary wanted to disrupt not only the electrical grid but also our diesel supply chain, we would be limited to the diesel we have on hand.

So if you can imagine instead an onsite solar project that has built into it the switches that allow it to sever itself from the grid if there were a grid outage but continue generating power on-base, and advanced storage systems. Now you’ve got a fuel source that has no supply chain. As long as the sun is shining, we’re getting electrons.

At Davis–Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona a couple of years ago, we finished a solar project. During peak sunlight, 1 o’clock in the afternoon, that solar array produces enough power to power the entire Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. We’re paying about 4.5 cents a kilowatt hour for the power ... compared to 8 cents a kilowatt hour from the grid off-base. So we’re saving a half a million dollars a year. 

The Air Force is using LED lighting on runways to replace traditional lighting. Is that an example of how you’re trying to make things more efficient?

We’re actually using LED technology in all kinds of applications, from parking lot lighting and lighting for walkways all the way to indoor lighting.

How did your experience at Wal-Mart help you at the Air Force?

An electron is an electron, a building is a building, an HVAC system is an HVAC system. In that sense they are very, very similar.

A big difference … is the government sector has far more acquisition rules, boundaries and policies that they need to adhere to. The federal acquisition rules absolutely make procurement of technologies more complicated and more difficult.

Are there certain things that translated well in terms of what you might have done at Wal-Mart to what you’ve done at the Air Force?

Wal-Mart is very, very successful in leveraging … its global size and scale to not only save money on technologies and drive down the price of technologies, but also provide manufacturing and consumer certainty to the manufacturers.

I would say that at the Air Force, we’re still at the very beginning stages, at least in energy technologies, in leveraging our size and scale. We still function as essentially independent little towns all across the country, and we have not yet really cracked the code on how to leverage that scale to drive down prices of these technologies for ourselves.

How might some of the energy efficiency and reductions efforts that have been undertaken by the Air Force translate to the private sector? 

It never ceases to amaze me how many organizations are still afraid of renewable energy technologies. Those organizations can look at large private-sector companies like Wal-Mart or Ikea or Coke or PepsiCo who have really gone big, large-scale on these technologies. They also can now look at their U.S. military.

All of us are moving very quickly in these technologies because they are proven, they’re reliable, they’re clean and they contribute to resiliency over time. We need resiliency to make sure our military mission can function even if there's a disruption of the electricity grid. 

Waging America’s Wars Using Renewable Energy PDF Print E-mail

A major player in U.S. renewable energy happens to be a five-sided building in Virginia usually associated with deployment of power rather than consumption of it.

The U.S. Department of Defense is the second-largest buyer of renewable electricity through deals meant to lock in long-term supply and provide incentives to developers of wind and solar projects, according to a database of more than 600 corporate power-purchase agreements (PPA) tracked by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Only Google is a bigger buyer. The revelation provides one of the starkest examples yet of the same clean energy imperatives driving companies, cities, universities, and other federal agencies. 

QuickTake Wind Power Picks Up Speed

First, renewable power has become cheap enough to compete with conventional sources in many places, particularly the Great Plains, where wind farms dot the landscape from Texas to Minnesota. Companies looking for power are commissioning the deals—traditionally with utilities—as a long-term hedge against variable electricity prices. At the Pentagon, the military has committed to acquiring up to 3 gigawatts of renewable capacity before 2025. The Air Force and the Navy lead the armed services in commissioning clean energy projects. 

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, now an assistant secretary for energy, installations, and environment, said economic security is “inextricably” linked with energy and the environment. “You can't consider one without considering effects on the other.”

Second, and even more surprising, is that in locations where renewable energy is competitive but not necessarily cheapest, energy consumers are still pursuing carbon-free power. This is often driven by corporate sustainability or climate pollution goals. There's a calculus at work for each entity, between changing prices and changing institutional missions. 

The Pentagon is finding that clean power is often just better, without even considering the climate benefits. It helps the military execute its mission in big and small ways, like something as simple as lightening the load soldiers carry onto the battlefield. Not surprisingly, Congress, the White House, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all encouraged the military to clean up its energy sourcing.

Here’s the big picture:

1. Everything is changing

By inking these deals, big institutions are fueling a revolution in the energy sector. This chart shows how the sources of U.S. electricity have changed since 2000. The light-blue and yellow wedges that open up toward the top right of the chart show the rise of wind- and solar-generated electricity.

SOURCE: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Some of the organizations buying clean power are doing so despite the fat-and-widening brown band above, which shows the expansion of gas resources from the shale boom. Most of the overall wind and solar capacity has been ordered up by utilities, and the deals struck by big brands, big agencies, and big schools make up barely 10 percent of the total installed wind and solar capacity. But many of these green energy users spend a lot of money on marketing and communications and aren't shy about touting their progressive stance on climate friendly solutions.

BNEF projects that the renewable and natural gas booms should lead the U.S. to meet President Barack Obama's 2030 climate emissions goal, which seeks to cut power-sector carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels—regardless of whether a court challenge to his Clean Power Plan succeeds.

2. Who’s buying clean power?

To some extent, the usual suspects. The top 20 purchasers of renewable electricity include many of the large technology, consumer goods, and retail companies that are regularly toasted for their electrical hygiene.

Google’s activity amounts to almost 26 percent of the total capacity built by the other 350 institutions in the BNEF database combined. It’s also the leading face of the leading industry. Technology has out-bought manufacturing, retail, and the rest since 2013. The sector purchased 1.78 gigawatts in 2015, which was more than the entire country bought in 2014, some 1.63 GW. 

Activity is expected to slow this year, after a mini-rush propelled by the expiration of a wind production tax credit and the expected lapsing of a solar investment tax credit. However, in December both credits were renewed, so green investments may pick up again.

3. Where is it going?

This map shows where corporate PPAs have resulted in new renewable energy projects.

The Great Plains corridor is lit up with large-scale wind farms. Each mammoth installation can churn out enough electricity on average to power 35,000 homes. California drives much of American solar development, with many projects also finding homes in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. 

Wind is big in the Midwest, while solar dominates the coasts. Meanwhile, see if you can find the fuel cell plant.

SOURCE: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

4. Doing the “right” thing

"Corporate sustainability" can be described in many ways—as cost-saving, confusing, or public-relations greenwashing. The BNEF data suggest another label might be tossed in: It’s working.

By taking on commitments to reduce or stop pollution, executives are demonstrating that there's more to economic decision-making than short-term pricing. Companies and other institutions are committing resources to green power at a time when conventional electric power—fueled by abundant natural gas—has reduced prices to near-historic lows. Reasonable people can disagree over which revolution has been more dramatic, the clean energy one or the shale gas one. But going by the numbers alone, gas has made conventional power very cheap.

The surprising thing is that many companies—always with an eye on the numbers—aren't going by short-term numbers alone. Challenged by a climate change skeptic at a March 2014 shareholder meeting, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook shut down the criticism, saying, “If you want me to do things only for [return on investment] reasons, you should get out of this stock.” Even Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s sustainability program has put the Bentonville, Ark.-based company on the map of American renewables.

"Every corporation has a different reason for doing PPAs, with sustainability, corporate values, and the price hedge and stabilizing effect on costs all being part of it," said Neha Palmer, Google's head of energy strategy, global infrastructure. "It's clear we are not the only ones finding value in doing these types of activities."


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Several companies in the U.S. database have committed to meeting scientifically determinedclimate goals. Mars Inc. (ranked 13), Procter & Gamble Co. (15), Owens Corning (16), and L’Oréal SA (175). Many actively buy PPAs around the world. In December, Google bought 781 megawatts of wind and solar power in the U.S., Chile, and Sweden, the same week Microsoft Corp. secured 175 MW of wind power to run an Illinois data center.


“There’s no question: The spark for corporate purchasing of renewables continues to be sustainability goals,” said Jacob Susman at EDF Renewable Energy, who has worked on deals with Yahoo! and Procter & Gamble.

Corporate buyers may make up 50 percent of demand for the next several years, he said, but that may change: “The historically low cost, and still declining, of wind and solar adds fuel to the fire.”

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