A Quick Take on Joule Biotechnologies

by Gypsy Achong

Joule Biotechnologiesʼ recent press release has stimulated a bit of excitement and speculation on their technology, including by our own blogger Paul O’Callaghan.

A quick look at Joule Biotechnologiesʼ patent filing suggests that they are engineering a fast growing bacterium – Escherichia coli – capable of converting light and carbon dioxide into fuel. The advantages of using E. coli over algae are clear:

  • E. coli is significantly easier to genetically engineer than algae. Thus, Jouleʼs culture will allow greater flexibility in output of fuels / chemicals as policies and product prices change
  • E. coli grows ~10x faster than algae. As long as the metabolic load of photosynthesis does not slow down growth, Jouleʼs culture has potential to capture light at a greater rate than algae
  • Also, algae grow slower if light intensity gets too high. Jouleʼs plan to use a solar concentrator suggests that their engineered organism is less susceptible to light intensity.

In addition, use of a solar concentrator presents an opportunity for increasing light capture efficiency of a reactor. The benefits of Jouleʼs approach have potential to be game-changing, and they have assembled an A-team to deliver. Resumes of the inventors, Eric Devroe, Dan Robertson, Frank Skraly and Christian Ridley, include a whoʼs who of prestigious research labs and synthetic biology companies including Diversa (now Verenium), Metabolix and Codon Devices. George Church, a Harvard professor of genetics and serial entrepreneur, is an advisor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Church).

Still, development risks are high. Creating a photosynthetic organism from scratch is not facile – photosynthesis is one of the most complicated metabolic pathways that exist in nature, and includes membrane proteins – typically the hardest proteins to move between organisms. But perhaps Joule is a company to keep on the radar.

Gypsy Achong is a guest blogger on CleantechBlog.com. She was most recently a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group, focusing on energy and biotechnology. She has a Ph.D. in environmental microbiology from Stanford University.

A Tale of Two Cities

by Richard T. Stuebi

as posted to Huffington Post

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. The climate isn’t changing; we must move to a sustainable way of life.

Earlier in August, a meeting called “Debunking Climate Change Myths” was held in Springfield, Missouri, bringing together about 150 figures and sympathizers of the climate skeptic community. The meeting was organized by Ron Boyer, a member of the Missouri Air Conservation Commission who also founded a group called Scientists for Truth. I didn’t attend their meeting, so I don’t know firsthand what this event was aiming to accomplish, but here is a breathless report on how the meeting transpired.

Apparently, Mr. Boyer convened the meeting because he wanted to increase the public platform for climate skeptics to tell their story, which essentially boils down to this:

“We can’t be sure that human-induced climate change is really happening, so therefore we shouldn’t bend over backwards to do anything different until we’re absolutely sure that human-induced climate change is really happening. And, in fact, we’re absolutely sure that human-induced climate change is NOT really happening.”

Put another way, the story being told in these self-referential (and self-reverential) circles is effectively:

“We like the way things are, thank you very much, and we don’t want to change the way we produce or use energy. We’re very pleased to be spewing lots of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and we’re seduced by the allure of consuming lots of resources in doing so, and we simply can’t be bothered to entertain any other different way of life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.”

It seems as if the skeptics’ story is gaining currency among a fearful, confused and angry public: a Gallup poll from earlier in 2009 reports an increase in the number of respondents doubtful about climate change, so the tactics of the climate skeptic storytellers seem to be effective in the current environment. As a result, I would guess that you’ll be hearing their story told more frequently and loudly as the debates about the Waxman-Markey climate legislation to be considered in the Senate intensify: expect the disciples of the Springfield skeptic crowd to participate in Tea Party protests against any action, coming to a local auditorium near you.

While the climate skeptics congregated in Springfield, several hundred miles northeast in Cleveland, I joined about 700 other people in attending a city-wide sustainability summit entitled Sustainable Cleveland 2019. Convened by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, the summit was designed to have a broad cross-section of interests begin charting a course for the region’s future, premised on a concerted move to a green economy as an engine for overall revitalization.

After a rousing introductory keynote speech by Van Jones, the Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Obama Administration, the attendees spent three days assessing the region’s strengths and opportunities to surface priorities for action in the coming decade, to provide something worth celebrating in 2019 – commemorating 50 years since the infamous Cuyahoga River fire, which awakened the U.S. environmental movement.

As profiled extensively in reporting by John Funk of The Plain-Dealer, Sustainable Cleveland 2019 was an exuberant gathering. In contrast to the “just say no” story being told among the climate skeptics in Springfield, the story being written in Cleveland is one of optimism and constructive engagement. The story goes something like this:

“We the people of Cleveland want to reinvent our city and region. Because of forces far larger than us, we know we must fundamentally change the way we live and work. We understand the situation we face, and we will not resist or complain. In fact, making the necessary changes provides us the opportunity to create something much better than we have now – and even better than we ever had.”

A number of voices in the blogosphere pooh-poohed the Sustainable Cleveland 2019. To be sure, the summit was far from perfect: it was too long, and at times entailed too much hyperbole and rah-rah for my tastes, sometimes lapsing into unrealistic naivete. However, these faults are worth tolerating, if it means greater traction among a broader constituency so as to improve our chances for achieving wide-scale beneficial change. If I were to criticize anyone, it would be the cynical bloggers for sitting on the sidelines and throwing rocks at passers-by with their unhelpful comments.

Cleveland, Springfield: there’s no doubt in my mind which city was hosting the more interesting and significant gathering – the one offering any path forward worth pursuing.

In his provocative remarks to the Cleveland audience, Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, observed that most segments of the world population were increasingly coming to the recognition that “the future has no future”.

For those minds that convened in Springfield, this fear of the future has the skeptics running like lemmings back to the unrecapturable past. Here in Cleveland, a big chunk of our population sees that the present (much less the past) is truly unsustainable and is taking responsibility to invent a new and improved world for themselves: a future that indeed has a future.

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Effective September 1, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

Ford Plans both Electric Vehicles and Plug-in Hybrids

By John Addison (8/24/09). Ford (F) is now taking orders for electric vehicles. By 2011, the Ford Motor Company will start taking orders for the new Ford Focus EV. Beyond 2011, Ford will offer the popular Focus in a variety of affordable options including hybrid-electric (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and battery electric-vehicle (EV).

Although Nissan (NSANY) will take an early lead with EVs, and GM will beat Ford to market with a plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, Ford will be fighting for market leadership with both electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

The Ford EV roadmap in this article is based on my interviews with Susan Cischke, Ford Group Vice President, Mike Tinskey, Plug-in 2009 Conference presentations, and my discussions with some of Ford’s utility partners.

2010 orders are likely to come from municipalities and other government agencies that will use the new Transit Connect light-duty van in a variety of applications from city maintenance to on-demand transit. Deliveries of these electric vehicles, made for Ford by Smith Electric Vehicles (TAN.L), will start in 2010. Transit Connect may also do well with small businesses and local delivery fleets.

It is the Ford Focus EV that captures the imagination of mainstream Americans eager to secure a zero-emission vehicle that they can take on freeways and travel up to 100 miles between charges. The new Ford Focus EV will be a 4-door sedan that seats five.

The Focus EV will be made in America. The lithium battery maker and specs are to be announced. Ford has expressed a preference for a battery whose cells that are made in America. Ford’s final battery decision may be influenced by federal funding.

Ford’s additional PHEV Plans in Clean Fleet Report.

Ford is investing $550 million to transform its Michigan Assembly Plant into a lean, green and flexible manufacturing complex that will build Ford’s next-generation Focus global small car along with a new battery-electric version of the Focus for the North American market. Both will be based on a new global C platform. The EV is being developed in partnership with Magna International (MGA).

Ford has been actively testing the plug-in hybrid Ford Escape with a number of utilities and partners. These tests have helped establish the standards necessary for electric vehicle success, such as the J1772 electrical connection that will be standard on Ford EVs.

Thanks to a new DOE award of $30 million, 50/50 matched, a total of $60 million will go into expanded deployment of Ford plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, and infrastructure. Early pilots of the Ford Focus EV are likely to be part of this.

The new electric vehicles are smart EVs. Customers will be provided with charging options to save money. Drivers will be connected with traffic and location services and assisted with electronics that make driving safer. Passengers will have more information and entertainment options than ever. Like the new smartphones from Apple, Blackberry, Palm and others, the value of a full value of a smart car is in the networks. Just as smartphones can be purchased at a discount with network subscriptions, we may see similar offerings from car makers and their partners.

Subscription models are being explored where vehicles like the Ford Focus EV could be purchased, with the lithium battery and charging being offered as a subscription. Ford, Nissan, and other automakers are discussing such possibilities with electric utilities, financial institutions and others. Should a utility or JV own the batteries, then it would be easier to repurpose lithium batteries into less demanding stationary power back-up applications after the batteries decline in charge after several years of use.

Possibilities include 50/50 joint ventures and long-term secure financing. Because utilities are regulated, public utility commissions will be involved in approving new business models. If everyone gets there act together, which is certainly an “if,” the customer could be a big winner with an affordable EV and subscription offerings that cost less than monthly gasoline costs.

Under the leadership of CEO Alan Mulally, Ford has shown a new flexibility in partnering with suppliers, vehicle integrators, battery JV, electric utilities, financial institutions, and even information technology firms like Microsoft (MSFT). With global platforms, smarter cars, richer partnerships, and greater speed to market, customers will see some interesting new offerings in the next two years.

By John Addison. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.

Irrigation Scheduling for Agricultural Crops: It’s Not Just a Flip of a Switch!

For this second post in the “Sustainable Agriculture on Cleantech Blog” series, I decided to invite Dave Doll, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, and fellow blogger at Almond Doctor Blog, to share his expert knowledge about irrigation management for agricultural crops.
Agricultural use of water within California use has been a media magnet these days. With the reductions of pumping into the California Aqueduct from the Delta, California in its third straight year of a drought, and an increasing population that is putting strain on an aging infrastructure, it is not much of a surprise to find that water is on many people’s mind. In a normal year, 48% of the water is used for environmental reasons, 41% for agricultural purposes, and 11% for urban uses. In drought years, these percentages change, usually with reductions facing both the environmental and agricultural uses. Most water “rights” discrepancies come in terms of river restoration and/or protection of native species, which usually reduce water to local growers who then rely more heavily on groundwater to maintain agricultural production. One can see that battles between growers and environmentalist are common and fierce. An example of these can be found with court rulings of the Delta Smelt and the restoration of the San Joaquin River.
Being with water in high demand, are there ways that the water used for agriculture be used more efficiently? The answer is “Yes.” Agricultural water use efficiency can be improved by delivering water to the right place, at the right amount, and at the right time. The “Three Rs” is not a new concept: the most primitive irrigation systems established over 5000 years ago were reliant upon these same principles. Growers would water when the plants showed some sign of water stress (i.e. wilting), and water would be delivered to the root zone at an amount that appeared to wet the soil to the appropriate level. Thankfully, through the use of certain technologies, we can increase the efficiency of our irrigations through tools to that help refine the three Rs.
If the “Three Rs” have worked for 5000 years, why change now?
The current face of agriculture is changing. Water costs are increasing. In drought years, water prices may be over $500 an acre foot in some production areas of the West side of the San Joaquin valley. Increased rates are not just due to droughts; rates throughout California are increasing as urban and environmental water demand increases while supply has not increased. Secondly, the costs involved to apply the water are also high. Fuel and electricity for pumps, cost of irrigation filters and lines, and irrigation maintenance are not cheap and require hours of labor to install and repair. Furthermore, especially within the San Joaquin Valley, water must be properly applied to prevent run-off, prevent plant diseases, ensure adequate soil penetration, encourage leaching and prevent accumulation of salts, reduce evaporation, and produce maximum profits/yields. Knowing all of this, it is easy to understand why wasting of water is unacceptable as well as the reduction of yields caused by under irrigating.
So, how do we do maximize yield but reduce water waste?
Proper irrigation is achievable through monitoring the plant-soil-environment complex. The amount of water within the soil and its ability to be accessed by the plants roots can be measured/estimated through a variety of technologies. These include the low cost feel method, to the more accurate neutron probe. For most irrigation water management systems, one of the several electrical resistance or tensiometers systems are used. These are connected to data-loggers and can be transmitted wirelessly to computer software programs to help growers monitor soil moisture. Soil moisture readings are often used by themselves to schedule irrigations, but they are most valuable when used with data that takes in consideration the water demands influenced by the environment and plant.
Plant water use varies by the stage of growth of the plant. Typically, water use is the highest when the plant is fully leafed out, with maximized leaf surface. This is because the more leaf surface transpiring, the more water is lost through the opening of the stomates. As stomates open and close, water vapor, which is at a high concentration within the plant, is released into the low moisture environment through diffusion. This is also why plant water use is the highest on days with high temperatures and low humidity. To simplify the plant-environment water interaction, the term evapotranspiration is often used. This term encompasses the loss of water by both the evaporation off of the surface of the plant and soil, and the water lost through transpiration. This value is determined by weather stations and multiplied by the respective crop and crop growth stage to determine the water use. Throughout California, these values are recorded and calculated from over 100 weather stations and made available through the California Irrigation Management Information Systems.
Outlined above were brief explanations of the tools available to calculate how much water is in the soil, and how much water is used by the plant and environment. Knowing this information, how can we use the “Three Rs” to reduce water use by increasing irrigation efficiency? By viewing the soil profile as a reservoir for the plant’s water, and calculating the daily water needs of the plant, we can determine how long the plant can survive off the water available within the soil profile. When the soil profile is close to depletion, a timed irrigation of the proper amount can refill the profile, restarting the cycle. This is the premise of basic irrigation scheduling. As one can see, proper crop irrigation encompasses more than “just a flip of the switch.”
Complexities within soil texture and soil water holding capacity, variance in efficiencies of different irrigation systems, plant water potential, and regulated deficit irrigation are all topics

that increase irrigation efficiency and will be discussed in later articles.

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is VP Marketing for Terraqualo, a new venture in precision irrigation for growers of specialty crops. Marguerite is the creator of La Marguerite, a popular environmental blog, and has written extensively for a number of other blogs, including Huffington Post Green. She has a multidisciplinary background as an engineer, marketer, and social worker.

The Cleantech LP Conundrum

Cleantech limited partners have a big conundrum. It’s called unrealized gains.

After years of struggling, cleantech investors are now quietly but optimistically beginning to talk about impressive gains in their funds. Unfortunately, the elephant behind them that LPs are beginning to talk about is the prevalence of massive unrealized gains from the behemoth solar, biofuels and automotive startups in the portfolios.

The question is simple, and much debated. Are the unrealized gains real, or unreal?

The naysayer argument runs something like this:

  • Many of the companies are pre-revenue, certainly pre-profit, and tons of them are scary early stage when it comes to actually proving the technology OR the business at scale.
  • There’s still not much in the way of IPO market or M&A market backing up the levels of these valuations (one vicious example is the massive downround valuation smash A123 took in its last round, once you dig into the the prospectus).
  • The energy business doesn’t tend to pay huge tech multiples for exits, and even business successes may get crushed (think Aventine and Verasun at the end of the day).
  • The amount of capital many of the key companies in the portfolios will still need, and the limited GP funds raised in the last couple of quarters, may put a lot of downward pressure on price for the more capital intensive deals.
  • There is a sneaking suspicion among some LPs that if you looked at it from a concentration risk perspective, a quite small web of large deals has been bid up among venture capitalists, causing a bit of a valuation bubble in the portfolios.

The cleantech is finally coming into its own argument, runs like this:

  • The combo of policies around the world is now a heavyweight, from Stimulus to FIT to Climate Change to PTC et al, and those dollars are starting to tell.
  • The consumer and business shift to things green, and the rebounce in oil prices (though not gas or electricity) is underpinning the future growth to justify the valuations.
  • The valuations are based off of big successes like First Solar’s IPO, and are legitimately derived.
  • Some of the early big deals in key areas like thin film solar and automotive are finally beginning to deliver production, and will walk the walk, deserving the kinds of multiples that First Solar got, and underpinning valuations in an IPO market.
  • GPs are increasingly raising later stage funds, and that money has got to go somewhere.

Which argument you buy on the subject may frankly make or break you as an investor. If you believe the naysayers, and a couple of these deals realize out and make half a dozen or a dozen funds, you may be on the short end of the fundraising / returns bragging rights stick for years. If they don’t come through, anyone not in the “Big Bad Bets” (taking that “Bad” either as a pejorative or as BadA**, depending on your perspective), may look like a braniac. And regardless, if some of these big returns do realize, LPs will have plenty to debate about the “quality” of those earnings. Were they good, or just lucky? And how do you tell?

Neal Dikeman is a partner at Jane Capital Partners, and has cofounded, run, invested in, or served as a director of multiple startups in cleantech and technology, and has advised a number of large energy companies on venture investing. He is Chairman of Carbonflow and Cleantech.org, and a Texas Aggie.

Our First Cleantech.org Carbon Webinar Series with DNV – this Thursday

We are really excited to present our first Professional Education Webinar, part of a Webinar Series with DNV, called Carbon Projects 101, How Carbon Offset Projects Work.

Details are below, but we have a special promotion running, our friends at NetSuite.org have sponsored a 100 attendees to receive a discounted price of $95, a$200 savings. There are still a few left!

The Details:

DNV is the largest verifier in the carbon world, verified the 1st CDM project in carbon, and the 1,000th, and literally wrote the book on what counts in carbon.

Carbon offsets are one of the largest parts of the global cap and trade market and the fight against climate change – billions of dollars a year now. And carbon trading is arguably the largest cleantech market. So Cleantech.org partnered with the biggest verifier in the Kyoto, Det Norske Veritas, to bring you the “how to” and “skinny” on carbon offset projects.

– Do you work in an energy company or technology company looking to monetize carbon reductions?

– Are you interested in buying or trading carbon, and want to understand what’s underneath?

– Have you been buying RECs and want to understand the difference?

– Are you an investor trying to sort through the carbon chaff?

– Are you a policy analyst, attorney, or consultant and have clients or bosses asking questions on how it works?

Then you should register for Cleantech.org Professional Education Online.

Vol I, Carbon Projects 101: How Carbon Offset Projects Work

CDM, JI, Voluntary Carbon and the coming US Market

August 27th, 11 am PST online webinar – 3 hours, Dr. Mark Trexler

After registering and paying, you will receive a registration confirmation and a Go To Meeting web address to login. Email info@cleantech.org with any questions. Large group discounts are available.

The Instructor: Dr. Mark Trexler – A leading authority on the carbon markets and policies, Dr. Trexler is Director, Climate Strategies and Markets at DNV. He was President of Trexler Climate + Energy Services, acquired by leading carbon project developer and asset manager EcoSecurities in 2007. Prior to that Dr. Trexler was a research associate at World Resources Institute. He holds a PhD in International Environmental Policy and MPP at UC-Berkeley.

About DNV – DNV (Det Norske Veritas) is an independent foundation founded in 1864 whose purpose is the safeguarding of life, property, and the environment. With global headquarters in Oslo, Norway, DNV has approximately 300 offices in 100 countries with 9,000 employees. DNV’s core competence is helping organizations to identify, assess, and manage risk. DNV’s various business units – ranging from healthcare to energy to aerospace – all focus on safely and responsibly improving business performance for their customers. For more information visit. www.DNV.com

If Letterman Covered CleanTech….

by Richard T. Stuebi

Since he launched his late-night run in the early 1980’s, the staple of David Letterman’s show has been his nightly Top 10 list.

I haven’t yet seen Letterman profile the Top 10 in the cleantech space. (Then again, nowadays I’m usually asleep far before his show begins.) But, if Letterman were ever to explore this area, Shawn Lasser of Sustainable World Capital has already done the work.

In this recent article, Mr. Lasser identifies the 10 states that are leading the cleantech race. In his view, the Top 10 are:

  1. California, based largely on its dominant share of cleantech venture capital activity and its pathbreaking law requiring greenhouse gas emission reductions
  2. Texas, due to the boom of wind energy deployment there
  3. Massachusetts, owing to the research powerhouses of MIT and Harvard
  4. Colorado, as evidenced by the impressive growth in the number of cleantech firms and jobs
  5. New Jersey, reflected by its ambitious solar energy requirements
  6. Tennessee, given the two $1+ billion polysilicon plants being built there to support the PV industry
  7. Pennsylvania, giving credit to Governor Ed Rendell’s leadership in establishing friendly advanced energy policies
  8. New York, particularly for its energy cluster-building initiative, New Energy New York
  9. Ohio, in recognition of its manufacturing capabilities for wind and solar energy
  10. Oregon, mainly for Portland’s sponsorship of progressive environmental policies

The big surprise on this list is Tennessee. Frankly, I think it’s an overstatement to claim Tennessee is an important factor in cleantech. The two aforementioned polysilicon plants probably ended up in Tennessee mainly because they were likely able to obtain electricity dirt-cheap from the Tennessee Valley Authority – an advantage gifted to the state from the Federal government 75 years ago. These two factories do not a cleantech cluster make.

Although it earned an “Honorable Mention”, the glaring omission on this list is Michigan. This simply will have to change: in recent weeks, Michigan has lured General Electric (NYSE: GE) to establish a major R&D facility near Detroit, and the Obama Administration has granted over $1 billion in grants to advanced battery interests in the state. With NextEnergy being a key facilitator, expect Michigan to become a major player in the cleantech arena.

Looking back on this list, it’s not particularly humorous, so Letterman would have to be pretty darn creative in making a good schtick out of the cleantech space. But, thanks nonetheless to Mr. Lasser to providing some interesting food for thought.

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Effective September 1, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

Smart Electric Vehicles and Smart Grids

By John Addison (8/20/09). The new freeway-speed electric vehicles will also be smart electric vehicles (SEV). They will be smart about using energy inside the vehicle so that it can go 100 miles between charges. The SEV will be smart about navigation options that consider your preference for getting somewhere fast or traveling with minimal energy use. SEVs will be full of electronics to entertain passengers, like kids in the back seat.

They will be smart about charging to meet driver preferences for saving money or charging more quickly. Smart electric vehicles ideally use a smart grid for charging. The electric utilities see the electric vehicle as part of the new smart grid which uses information technology to make the electric grid efficient, reliable, distributed, and interoperable. Years ago, mainframe computers with dumb terminals gave way to network computing. Similar improvements are now underway with the electric grid.

At the Plug-in 2009 Conference and Exposition in Long Beach, I joined thousands in seeing new electric vehicles, new smart charging stations, and joining presentations by leading auto makers, utilities, early fleet users, and sustainable city leaders from Southern California Edison (EIX), SDGE (SRE), AQMD, EPRI, and many others.

At the Plug-in Conference, the new Nissan Leaf (NSANY) got a lot of deserved attention. By the end of 2011, Nissan may deliver as many as 10,000 of these. Most will be delivered where utility and other partners have committed to complete programs to install garage, employer, and other public charging stations.

The new 2010 Nissan Leaf is a comfortable compact hatchback that seats five. Clean Fleet Report’s test drives of Nissan EV prototypes demonstrated plenty of acceleration. The Nissan Leaf is powered by 24kWh of lithium-ion batteries. The Leaf has a range of about 100 miles. In 8 hours you are good for another 100 miles with a Level 2 AC200V home-use charger; in 26 minutes you can be 80 percent charged with a Level 3 DC 50kW quick charger.

Transportation expert, Antonio Benecchi a Partner with Roland Berger forecasts that plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles will capture 10 to 20 percent of the auto market by 2030. The speed of adoption will depend on cost and early customer experience. If the lifetime cost of owning and operating an electric vehicle is less than a comparable gasoline powered one, 20 percent could be low by 2030.

When you get an iPhone, Nokia, or Blackberry, the cost of the smartphone depends on the type of subscription plan you have with the wireless carrier. Similarly, over the next few years, automakers and their partners may explore different business models such as:

· Vehicle purchased with battery leased
· Vehicle, battery, and energy for charging are all subscribed
· EV and charging are part of carsharing plans
· Integrated mobility offerings will include an EV

For example, the Nissan Leaf might be offered by a dealer for under $30,000 with battery and charging offered on a subscription plan by Better Place or various electric utilities.

If charging and subscription plans are kept simple, consumers will love it. If consumers must sign for different plans as they go to different cities, EVs will be a turn-off. Early cell phone users rebelled against complicated plans and big surprise “roaming” charges.

Standards are being put in place so that auto makers, charging station providers, and electric utilities will be compatible. A key standard is automotive SAE J1772, which standardizes the electrical connection, current flow, and some communication between smart vehicle and smart charger. This standard is compatible with important advanced metering smart home electric standards such as Smart Energy 2.0.

EV customers will be able to check on how much their EV batteries are charged through a web browser, their smart phone, or by looking at their vehicle dash. The networking and software is there, so that they could look at monthly vehicle use and charges.

Electric utility operators will be able to track, manage, and forecast EV electricity use thanks to smart charging stations with electric utility meter chips built in such as Coulomb ChargePoint Networked Charging Stations and ETEC (ETLY.OB – disclosure: author owns this stock), who has already installed over 5,500 charging stations. ETEC will be installing over 12,500 new charging stations thanks to a matching grant of almost $100 million from DOE.

I am on the wait list to buy the Nissan Leaf. When I get a new EV or PHEV, I would be glad to agree to a subscription plan that would save me $100 per month if I would agree to have my vehicle not charge during peak-demand hours. We’ll see if I am given that kind of option. Thanks to software services from GirdPoint and others, the technology is there to plug-in and having charging managed by user preferences and subscription agreements.

Utilities could shape demand to off-peak. Utilities could use EVs for spinning reserves and peak power using vehicle-to-grid (V2G). Dr. Jasna Tomic with CALSTART estimates that the national grid would only need 7 percent additional capacity to off-peak charge 100 million electric vehicles. Those same vehicles could provide 70 percent of the national grid’s needed peak power. Smart grid upgrades, customer price signals and subscription agreements could enable growing use of V2G in the coming decade.

Smart vehicles and smart grids create a trillion dollar opportunity for incumbents and innovators. The opportunity has attracted GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and hundreds of other auto makers. It has attracted the world’s largest electric utilities and grid operators. This smart grid “Internet” for electricity now has devoted teams inside IBM, Google, Cisco, Microsoft, and other information technology giants.

The smart electric vehicle is symbiotic with the smart grid. The information communication technology is there. It is the business models and customer experience that count. Get ready for the most comfortable and intelligent ride of your life.

By John Addison. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.

Sober Words from DOE

by Richard T. Stuebi

At the recent Western Energy Summit, Dr. Steven Koonin (Undersecretary of Science at the U.S. Department of Energy) made a speech with some eye-opening tid-bits. In this review on GreenTechMedia, Koonin is quoted as saying about the daunting challenges in moving away from fossil fuels:

“We have limited time and limited resources….We cannot let 1,000 flowers bloom indiscriminately.”

“The deployment of inefficient feel-good resources is doubly-bad” because they give the illusion of progress and divert scarce resources.

Coal “is not going to disappear anytime soon,” so much more effort needs to be put into carbon capture and storage technologies.

“If the world wants to seriously address emissions, nuclear will almost certainly have to be part of the future.”

Most interestingly, as reported by the August 3rd issue of the Peak Oil Review, Koonin is said to have opined in his speech that “resource constraints soon will force the Department of Energy to narrow its focus onto the most promising technologies.” If true, this is worrisome because (1) it possibly implies that the DOE isn’t necessarily expecting any major increases in R&D funding — and our national energy R&D budgets are considered by many to be pretty darn low in light of the challenges we face (see, for instance, this report by the Government Accounting Office), and (2) it suggests that DOE will increasingly start picking “winners and losers” — and the public sector is not known for being good at making such judgments.

If anyone can find Koonin’s speech text in full, I’d appreciate getting a copy.

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Effective September 1, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

Joule Biotech Sun-Powered Fuel – Biofuel Vs Solar PV

There was much furore recently surrounding the story ‘Joule Biotech comes out of stealth with sun-powered biofuel’.
The premise is that the technology can take solar energy and use it to convert carbon dioxide directly into fuel. A one stop-shop to soak up carbon dioxide and produce a biofuel.
Having dug into it a little, the conclusion I came to is that its not as radical as it sounds. Its basically directed photosynthesis : same principle as oil from algae, or biofuels. The overall efficiencies are likely to be 10 times lower than solar PV processes, but, it in terms of where biofuels are heading, its on the right track…..

The press release included the following:“The SolarConverter captures the sun and is fed carbon dioxide and combine inside where a solution of brackish water and nutrients exist with photosynthetic organisms—secreting the SolarFuel,” Joule’s CEO Bill Sims said, describing the end-product as a hydrocarbon-based fuel, not a biofuel.

Points to Note:
1. This is a solar powered system
2. It’s a Biological system
The input energy into this system is incident solar radiation. This varies from place to place but in North America, a reasonable average year round figure would be 200 Watts per m2. That’s what you have to work with. That is what is referred to as Primary energy. Solar panels are about 15% efficient, so you get 15% of that 200 Watts of incident power as useful energy, converted into electrons, which is the energy carrier. Electricity is a verstaile energy carrier, but difficult to store. Hence why high energy density liquid fuels are so good in transportation. They are an energy carrier, or ‘Secondary energy’. What is described here is the production of a secondary energy carrier via photosynthesis.This is exactly what Oil from Algae is. Algae are fast growing unicellular organisms, certain species of which produce large quantities (50%) of oil as a percentage of the total cell weight. The algae oil is very like diesel, so you can get biodiesel. The Joule Biotech system is using a photosynthetic organism also. They don’t say whether its an algae, plant cell cultures, or some new genetic hybrid, but either way, I dont think they will have improved on millenia of evolution in terms of the net efficiency of the photosynthesis process, i.e. how much of the solar energy the living organism is capable of capturing.
Compared to other plants, the photosynthetic efficiency of algae is very high – almost 3 times that of sugar cane for instance. Compared to solar energy, however, the energy efficiency of algae is very low – around 1 percent, while solar panels have an efficiency of at least 10 percent, and solar thermal gets 20 percent and more.
So the absolute efficiency of the Joule Biotech system at converting solar energy into chemical energy is likely to be similar to algae or other high yield plants.

So why go with Joule Biotech Vs Solar PV?

1. Carbon sequestration – this could be the tail wagging the dog. There is business to be made in tieing up CO2. Overall this is carbon neutral, however, if you take the CO2 from a coal power station stack, there may be some credit to be had.

2. There is a demand for alternative liquid fuels
Even if Solar PV is a more efficient method of capturing solar energy, it produces electricity and we still run our transport fleet on liquid fuels. You could take Solar PV and use the electricity produced to synthesise hydrogen or other chemical fuels such as methyl hydrate, but the overall accumulated losses might make a Joule Biotech type option more favorable.
3. The alternative chemicals produced are likely to be a higher value than the fuels produced.

What Joule Biotech may have, and this is one of the challenges with oil from algae, is engineered a system which works. The challenges are maintaining a pure cell culture on an on-going basis. If you want high yield of a certain product, you need pure cultures. That raises challenges when you try and do it on a large scale, particularly if you need to expose it all to sunlight.
The other way to go is low yield open ponds. It’s a mixed culture, low efficiency, low yield process. You accept you get a lower yield but its cheaper to build. So on a cost per unit of fuel produced it may be the same. Its like the debate between high efficiency PV solar and low efficiency solar. What matters is the unit cost per Watt of capacity. The fuel is free, so low efficiency is fine, the capital cost per watt of installed capacity is key. The other challenge with producing fuel from photosynthetic bio-organisms, is getting the fuel out afterwards. The extraction and purification process. You have cells and what you want is pure fuel. So maybe Joule Biotech have something unique to offer in this regard as well.
Overall in terms of where the biofuels market is heading, Joule Biotech appear to be on the right track. The ability to be able to produce multiple different products, different fuels and different chemicals is key. This allows you flexibility. As the demand or price of one product increases, you can alter your output to match market demand. The future of biofuels appears to be the interlinking of technology platforms to allow the use of multiple feedstrocks, to produce multiple products. Vinod Khosla has invested in a large number of Biofuel companies which all synergise and interlink. In terms of feedstock, Joule Biotech are using carbon dioxide and sunlight. It’s a biofuel with an accelerated path, less steps, from biology to fuel and the option to tailor it to produce different fuels.
Joule’s CEO Bill Sims says that the end-product they produce is a ‘hydrocarbon-based fuel, not a biofuel’. I think that is semantics. They still use a living organism to carry out the chemical synthesis to produce the fuel product.
This means that they have some of the same issues and challenges as other bio-based processes.

1. Cells need phosphorus
I wrote about Peak Phosphorus in a previous blog. This is a big issue. The cells used by Joule Biotech will need nutrients. Phosphorus is a non-renewable resource and one of the challenges for biofuels, first generation and 2nd generation, is that if you are growing a crop, be it switch grass, sugar cane or algae, you need phosphorus. Now in the case of Joule Biotech, they may be able to keep recycling this back into the system and keep a closed loop going, if so, that would be great.
2. Water is required
All living cells need water. Sure, they may be able to function on wastewater, brackish water or saltwater, but you need to provide them with water.
Check out Leave the Algae Alone for an excellent piece on this.
The idea of converting solar energy into chemical energy is an excellent one. Biofuel based processes are one way of doing this. If one could avoid the biology altogether that would be even better. Check out Blue Fuel Energy for some interesting ideas on how to chemically synthesise a chemical energy carrier, or ‘liquid electricity’ using renewable energy. Its still at a very nascent stage, but it stacks up very well as an overall concept.

This post was written by Paul O’Callaghan, founding CEO of the Clean Tech consultancy, O2 Environmental Inc. and lecturer on Sustainable Energy at the BC Institute of Technology.

Electric Vehicle Charging Passes Inspection

Plug-in Hybrids (PHEV) and Battery Electric Vehicles (EV) are destined for success. Thousands of key players have converged at the Plug-in 2009 Conference in Long Beach, California. In the opening workshop they talked about giving the customer a pleasant, easy-to-use, no hassle, safe and cost effective experience. The key players included auto makers, electric utilities, and community leaders who are installing thousands of vehicle charging stations.

President Obama has challenged the industry to sell or lease 1,000,000 PHEV & EV by 2015. This is an a challenge for the United States which currently has about 40,000 electric vehicles on our road, with less than 2,000 able to sustain freeway speeds. The race is on, however, as majors bring vehicles to market that can travel for 40 to 200 miles on an electric charge, not on foreign oil. The PHEV and EV makers include GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Tesla, BMW, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Smart, Think, and many others.

Given the potential for energy security, a climate solution, and lowering monthly fuel costs, who would want to stop this? Who could? A terrorist needing oil money? An oil executive? A conspiring auto maker? None of the above. The biggest concern is that the number one “speed bump” will be bureaucracy. Enid Joffe with Clean Fuel Connection was in the middle of the first wave of installing 7,500 chargers and in the current challenges of installing chargers from BMW’s MiniE.

Her customers have been caught in the catch-22 of the utility not approving charger installation without a city permit and the city refusing a permit without utility approval. A process that should take a few days and cost a few hundred dollars can take 45 days and cost thousands:

o Apply for license (in person in some locations, online in others)
o Proof of insurance
o City Permit to installer (much easier if charger is a legally categorized as an appliance)
o Utility Contract review
o Electrician installs adapter
o Utility returns to install separate meter

To encourage EV adoption, the City of New York has created a streamline process.

Fleet investment can be significant. They must often add electrical infrastructure, such as expanded switchboards and dedicated circuits.

EV adoption will accelerate if consumers can comfortably deal with one point of contact with a friendly website and friendly people. Easy installation and a modest added charge on their utility bill would be most desirable. It is encouraging that all the stakeholders recognize this and are negotiating solutions.

Also encouraging is common charging plugs, interfaces, and communication protocols. Over 10,000 charging stations are being planned for installation in the U.S. at major employers, busy city streets, busy garages, shopping malls, universities, and other places where people are likely to use their electric vehicles.

Many vehicles are not parked in garages. They are parked in carports, driveways, apartment parking lots, fleet parking lots, and on city streets. As GM readies introduction of its Chevy Volt, it demonstrated a 25-foot cable connector that it will provide with the vehicle. Yes, it will work outside. Getting it wet does not hurt it, or anyone standing in the wet. It adheres to new standards such as SAE J1772 so that it will work with any of the standard charging stations being installed. It communicates, so that a driver cannot forget and drive off while still plugged-in. Little details. Attention to the little details can make us optimistic about a driving future that is increasingly electric.

John Addison is reporting from Plug-in 2009 in Long Beach, California. California is currently home to 25,000 electric vehicles. Several thousand new charging stations are planned for 2010.

Yucca-ing Up Nuclear

by Richard T. Stuebi

My first day working professionally in the energy sector was September 29, 1986. (Why I remember this date so clearly, I can’t say.) On that day, I joined the consulting firm ICF in Washington DC, and as a bit of make-work (until I could get staffed on a significant project), I was asked to investigate when the national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada would be opened. I made a few calls over to the Department of Energy, and the general sense then was that Yucca Mountain would be open for business within 5 years.

Well, nearly 23 years later, we’re still waiting. On the DOE’s current Yucca Mountain webpage, no mention is made of an expected on-line date. A recent projection of Yucca Mountain’s completion date seems to be 2020. (Why it’s 11 years from today, and was only 5 years in the future 23 years ago, is a mystery to me.)

Of course, even 2020 is a dubious guess. Yucca Mountain’s tortured history and future is due to a lot of opposition from a variety of sources. Mainly, that’s been from ardent anti-nuclear voices. Probably the most important of these is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), in whose state the facility would be located. Presumably, his stance reflects his voters’ NIMBY concerns. Reid now claims that the Yucca Mountain project is essentially terminated, due to some language insertions in President Obama’s budget.

However, opposition to Yucca Mountain also is increasingly emanating from some pro-nuclear parties. One of the more interesting takes on the daunting issues facing Yucca Mountain is available in a Q&A in the recent Technology Review with Allison MacFarlane.

For certain ideas, their time never comes. Such could well be the case for Yucca Mountain.

Until a better idea for nuclear waste disposal comes along — and more importantly, is adopted — the prospects for a robust rebirth of the nuclear energy industry in the U.S. will inevitably face an uphill battle.

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Effective September, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

2010 Nissan LEAF EV on a Freeway Near You

By John Addison (8/3/09). Nissan (NSANY) will be the first to have thousands of affordable freeway-speed electric vehicles on the highways. The new 2010 Nissan LEAF is a comfortable compact hatchback that seats five.

Although Tesla will be the first to have a thousand freeway-speed EV on the roads, the $100,000 price tag is out of reach for most of us. According to Nissan, the LEAF will be “competitively priced in the range of a well-equipped C-segment vehicle.” In late 2010, Nissan will finalize pricing and its sale and/or lease strategy. We expect the LEAF to start around $30,000. Buyers are likely to qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

The Nissan LEAF will build on Nissan’s hybrid-electric success with the Altima Hybrid, which is in currently in the #6 position for U.S. cars with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions. The Nissan Altima Hybrid starts at $26,500.

Clean Fleet Report’s test drives of the Nissan EV demonstrated plenty of acceleration. The Nissan LEAF is powered by 24kWh of laminated compact lithium-ion batteries, which generate 90 kW of power, while its electric motor delivers 80kW/280Nm.

The LEAF has a range of about 100 miles. In 8 hours you are good for another 100 miles with a Level 2 AC200V home-use charger; in 26 minutes you can be 80 percent charged with a Level 3 DC 50kW quick charger. The 440v Level 3 chargers are likely to be scare, expensive, and certainly not for home use.

Nissan did not announce that LEAF batteries can be quickly swapped, but Nissan continues to partner with Better Place.

Many drivers will only spend $20 to $40 per month for electricity – a fraction of what they now spend for gas at the pump. Early adopters of electric vehicles, especially fleets, often use their solar power to charge vehicles.

In 2010, the Nissan will first be available in CA, OR, WA, AZ, TN, and NC.

Nissan is working with a number of global partners to accelerate development of a charging infrastructure, early fleet use, and education. For example, when I recently spoke at a San Diego cleantech event (presentation videos) San Diego Gas and Electric (SRE) announced early roll-out of 1,000 Nissan LEAF and an extensive charging infrastructure. Clean Fleet Report predicts that Nissan will be the first to have 10,000 freeway-speed electric vehicles on the road.

Toyota, Chevrolet, Chrysler and others will compete with Nissan by offering plug-in hybrids which will go up to 40 miles in battery electric mode and then engage gasoline engines to provide hundreds of miles of added range until the next gasoline fill-up or electric charge.

Nissan, however, is focused on zero-emission leadership. Longer term, Nissan expects to see many urban centers, such as London, where only ZEV will be exempt from expensive daily congestion fees. The 100-mile range meets the needs of 90 percent of U.S. daily driving and meets the needs of households with two or more cars.

Nissan will also face battery-electric competition next year from Ford (F), Chrysler, Mercedes (DAI) Smart, and dozens of emerging innovators. Electric vehicles are not new to the United States. 40,000 now drive light electric-vehicles on corporate and college campuses, typically with 25 mph speeds and 25 mile ranges.

Nissan LEAF employs an exclusive advanced IT system. Connected to a global data center, the system can provide support, information, and entertainment for drivers 24 hours a day. The dash-mounted monitor displays Nissan LEAF’s remaining power – or “reachable area” – in addition to showing a selection of nearby charging stations. Another state-of-the-art feature is the ability to use mobile phones to turn on air-conditioning and set charging functions – even when Nissan LEAF is powered down. An on-board remote-controlled timer can also be pre-programmed to recharge batteries.

The LEAF has a distinctive aerodynamic design. The “blue earth” color theme of the Aqua Globe body color of Nissan LEAF’s introductory model compliments the blue dashboard and instrumentation.

The first of Nissan’s EV’s will be manufactured at Oppama, Japan, with additional capacity planned for Smyrna, Tennessee, USA. Meanwhile, lithium-ion batteries are being produced in Zama, Japan, by the Nissan-NEC JV with additional capacity planned for the USA, the UK and Portugal, and other locations.

Nissan’s leadership will accelerate the manufacturing of fully-functional electric vehicles in volume. Manufacturing volume will drive down cost, making zero-emission vehicles cost competitive with gasoline counterparts. Electric vehicles will likely be less expensive for people to drive with low-cost nighttime charging. It will be easy for people to save on emissions when they are saving money at the same time.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He is the author of Save Gas, Save the Planet.

The Manufacturing Leap of Faith

by Richard T. Stuebi

Despite all the optimistic talk about green jobs in the advanced energy economy of the future, many manufacturers from the industrial heartland are deathly afraid of the potential passage of climate change legislation, concerned that cap-and-trade will increase their electricity costs and thereby make their operations less profitable.

A poster-child of the heavy industry here in the Midwest is The Timken Company (NYSE: TKR) of Canton, Ohio. Timken is arguably the world’s leading manufacturer of bearings, for a wide range of applications and industries. Last week, Timken reported its second-quarter 2009 financials: a loss of $64.5 million.

The article in The Plain-Dealer reporting on Timken’s results painted a very bleak picture — right up until the very last paragraph, in which a Timken spokesperson noted that the wind industry represented a “bright spot” for the company. Across town, Crain’s Cleveland Business was profiling Timken’s $200 million in recent investments to more aggressively pursue the “fast-moving” wind industry.

Of course, the “bright spot” afforded to Timken by the “fast-moving” wind sector will only remain attractive if it maintains momentum — something that is far more likely to occur if climate legislation is passed. On the other hand, it is all the other pieces of Timken’s business — the ones that are currently in the dumps — that many of those who oppose climate legislation are trying to protect.

It may be a leap of faith for a company to make a bold manufacturing commitment away from mature (in many cases, dying) industries of the past towards high-growth industries of the future — such as renewable energy. But the results of Timken suggest that those who try to make this shift at least have a chance at pockets of profitability even in these trying times, while those who avoid or defer this transition may face a lingering period of weak and declining prospects.

Manufacturers who protest against the Waxman-Markey bill may be spitting in the face of one of the few good manufacturing opportunities available to them in the coming decades. It’s time for the manufacturing world to build bridges to the future, rather than digging tunnels to the past.

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Effective September 2009, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.