View Full Version : Farming the Sun

11th August 2009, 10:32 AM
Every day, the Sun sends to Earth around 140 watts per square meter (averaged over 24 hours at the surface). This energy is over a range of frequencies (called black-body radiation), minus a few bands taken out by water, carbon dioxide and other compounds in the atmosphere.

If you had a good use for all of that energy, you might be prepared to pay up to 20 cents per kilowatt hour, as you do for some of your delivered electricity. Some quick maths shows that every hectare of farmland in New Zealand receives $2.4 million retail dollars worth of energy per year, from the Sun.

If you covered a hectare of paddock with photovoltaic solar panels, at current efficiency of say 25%, priced at $2 per watt for the panels (capacity of 600kW per Ha), you could perhaps generate 200kW per hectare on average in NZ (retail $40 per hour, or $350,000/Ha/yr), but the capital cost of the panels and hardware would be at least $2million. If you wanted to sell the power, it might only be worth 10c per kWHr at wholesale rates, and with the shortish lifetime of panels (15-20 yrs), it starts to look less exciting.

But why would you cover up a hectare of good farmland with solar panels anyway? By using your land for dairying (for example) to produce milksolids, and excluding brought-in feeds, fuel, electricity and assuming no meat production, it is normal to send off-farm just 0.06% of the Suns’ energy hitting each hectare. It’s a bit like turning on a 2400W heater in your lounge and getting under two watts of heating from it! You would hardly know it was going. Annual profit per hectare from dairy farming can reach NZ$3,000 to $5,000 or so.

From an energy efficiency point of view, farming with ruminants only succeeds because humans value the outputs highly, and most of the vast energy used comes free from the Sun. (On the positive side, it is also generally a pleasant use for land, and ruminants are good at cropping pasture from hills).

Knowing this efficiency issue, farmers can look at ways of increasing profitability by effectively using more of the sunshine that they receive. Aim to have no pugging, by whatever means possible. It might be far cheaper to just put in a feed pad or standoff area, than to lose several hectares of farm for several weeks of each year (of course serious pugging can take years to correct). Herd homes or sheltered areas keep stock cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and this helps with their feed conversion efficiency.

Pay close attention to your soil structure and pasture and correct imbalances. It’s possible that the benefits of increasing soil biological activity is an overlooked factor (worms, microbes etc). Look at a wider variety of forages that cope with all the weather extremes seen on your farm, as the climate slowly changes.

Why pay gold for your water heating power when you have so much spare area near the dairy for a few evacuated solar tubes? These systems are getting cheaper all the time, and the payback period is getting down below five years. Keep an eye on the photovoltaic cell prices - these are coming down sharply as China starts solving its energy issues. Another interesting area is the extraction of biodiesel from algae in stirred ponds or pumped tubing systems. This is over 1000 times more efficient than growing irrigated crops to produce ethanol for example. The next few years will see big changes in this area.

Don’t forget that you already have a huge solar panel working there on your farm, and if you could just increase its very low efficiency, it would improve the bottom line.

11th August 2009, 10:18 PM
Newer notes:

Solar PV panels can be up to 30% efficient, others are quoting prices as low as US$1 a Watt (although largescale manufacturing of this type would quickly use up all the Tellurium on Earth). Evacuated tubes for water heating can be up to 85% efficient in extracting blackbody radiation, a terrific figure.

According to AgResearch (pvt email), I’m not wrong with the solar efficiency of pastoral farming, but it was pointed out that ruminants are a very simple way of cropping drymatter from hills and difficult areas.

If anyone is interested in looking further into biodiesel production from algae have a first look here:


Exxon Mobil recently allocated $600million towards research into biodiesel production from algae. I hope this gets people thinking about extra uses for any land that they own, and also provides some optimism about our future transport fuel needs. It could be as simple as biodiesel from algae.


18th November 2009, 10:25 PM
OriginOil Named Among Top 100 Clean Energy Technologies
19.11.08 | 11:01 Uhr
OriginOil, Inc. (OTCBB:OOIL), the developer of a breakthrough technology to transform algae, the most promising source of renewable oil, into a true competitor to petroleum, announced that the company has been named as one of the Top 100 Clean Energy Technologies by the New Energy Congress. NEC ranks OriginOil as the top algae company.

The New Energy Congress is an association of energy professionals from around the world who review the most promising claims to existing and up-and-coming energy technologies that are clean, renewable, affordable, reliable, easy to implement and safe. From this ongoing review, NEC generates its Global Top 100 Clean Energy Technologies listing (http://Top100Energy.com).

"We are pleased to welcome OriginOil to our listing of top renewable energy companies. Algae is carbon neutral and holds tremendous potential as an energy resource. OriginOil is addressing the challenges to large-scale production," said Sterling D. Allan, CEO of the New Energy Congress. "OriginOil is developing a practical, industrial process that can make algae a viable, cost-competitive alternative to petroleum."

Companies named to the list will be honored at the NEC's sponsoring display at the second bi-annual Environmental Hall of Fame November 20-22 in Chicago. The awards ceremony, which is open to the public, will include Pierce Brosnan (James Bond) and his wife, who have been active in the environmental movement.

OriginOil's proprietary system is an industrial, scalable process for continuous algae growth and extraction of oil. In a self-contained module, the Helix BioReactor, algae is cultivated around a rotating vertical shaft which allows it to grow in multiple layers and facilitates the delivery of the nutrients it needs, CO2 and appropriate light spectrum. The oil is then extracted by breaking down the algae cell walls using the company's Quantum Fracturing technology, a chemical-free microwave process. The complete system is modular, scalable and portable. By displacing fossil fuel use, OriginOil's process also helps producers garner saleable carbon credits.

"We are honored to be recognized by the New Energy Congress," said Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO. "Algae can be a petroleum replacement in all sorts of applications, including gasoline, diesel, plastics and solvents. The goal with our unique technology is to fundamentally change our source of oil without disrupting the environment or food supplies, as other biofuels do."

About OriginOil, Inc.

OriginOil, Inc. is developing a breakthrough technology that will transform algae, the most promising source of renewable oil, into a true competitor to petroleum. Much of the world's oil and gas is made up of ancient algae deposits. Today, our technology will produce "new oil" from algae, through a cost-effective, high-speed manufacturing process. This endless supply of new oil can be used for many products such as diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, plastics and solvents without the global warming effects of petroleum. Other oil producing feedstock such as corn and sugarcane often destroy vital farmlands and rainforests, disrupt global food supplies and create new environmental problems. Our unique technology, based on algae, is targeted at fundamentally changing our source of oil without disrupting the environment or food supplies. To learn more about OriginOil, please visit our website at www.originoil.com.

Safe Harbor Statement:

Matters discussed in this press release contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. When used in this press release, the words "anticipate," "believe," "estimate," "may," "intend," "expect" and similar expressions identify such forward-looking statements. Actual results, performance or achievements could differ materially from those contemplated, expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements contained herein, and while expected, there is no guarantee that we will attain the aforementioned anticipated developmental milestones. These forward-looking statements are based largely on the expectations of the Company and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties. These include, but are not limited to, risks and uncertainties associated with: the impact of economic, competitive and other factors affecting the Company and its operations, markets, product, and distributor performance, the impact on the national and local economies resulting from terrorist actions, and U.S. actions subsequently; and other factors detailed in reports filed by the Company.

Abstract/Short Description

Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of OriginOil, Inc., developer of a breakthrough technology to transform algae, the most promising source of renewable oil, into a true competitor to petroleum, announced that the New Energy Congress has ranked OriginOil as the top algae company.

Keyword List

algae biodiesel, algae biofuel, algae oil, algae to oil, biodiesel algae, biodiesel from algae, biofuel from algae, new energy congress, oil from algae, ooil, originoil, riggs eckelberry

17th January 2010, 08:35 PM
Recently I was talking to someone who knows a lot more about farming than I do, and he took me to task about my sweeping statement on the solar efficiency of farming. Their large holding is probably only suited to pastoral farming in his opinion, with forestry the other likely option.

He quite rightly commented that if it was converted to forestry, there would be a few people employed spasmodically for a few years, and once the planting and pruning was over, it would be a wasteland as far as the local community were concerned, until it was harvested. And for what? a lot of logs of average quality 30 year old pine timber, sent overseas for processing.

I have purchased low cost Chinese-made furniture constructed of NZ pine, and a local business imports pool tables made of NZ pine, because we can't make them as cheaply here. Let's face it, pine seems to end up at the lower end of the worldwide timber market.

On the other hand, I have seen forestry removed north and east of Taupo recently, and replaced with rolling dairy pasture. But I can't understand how it will work in the short-medium term, when the soil is so porous and bereft of organic matter, at least on the surface. Maybe it will build up quicker than I expect.

Actually, I'm very impressed with the ability of farming in NZ to employ many people, and keep regional businesses going (sometimes very profitably). But it's in human nature to wonder if the farming process could be improved.

For instance, bigger farms with irrigation gear and dairies can use a lot of power from the main grid. In NZ, we've run out of easy options for new power. There is no room for another Bluff aluminium smelter, those types of huge energy-intensive exporters cannot set up here at the moment. But those same farms have a lot of cheapish land (compared to industrial estates) with incident free energy from the sun. At the very least, all farms could heat their own water at 85% efficiency, free of charge once capital costs are paid off.

Where it suits, some land could also be sacrified as holding ponds for seasonal rain. If you think about it, water is solar energy in a highly condensed form. If you are wanting power for domestic use at a spot remote from the grid, you are told to look for water with enough volume and head. If you have that, forget about wind energy and photovoltaic cells (PV). It's much cheaper to use a pelton wheel.

For farms, water is becoming increasingly important for pasture and crop growth. It is often the limiting factor on many properties, and I think it's time to have a look at re-using some of that enormous energy that the sun is providing. Why don't NZ farmers have a look at the Aussies: they have solar-powered pumps sourcing scarce water from underground, while we just seem to let it all our watery bounty course down the hills and off the property.

9th February 2010, 09:48 PM
I found this 2006 article today.


Germany has built up quite a business making solar panels, but I think China and other countries might head them off on price. In 2006 the system was profitable because the farmer was paid 3x the trade price for his solar power, guaranteed. Payback period just over 11 years.

However, now solar PV panels can be purchased for under NZ$5 per watt, well less than half the price that would have been paid in 2006. Maybe the days of solar farms in NZ are not far off.

The efficiency of the evacuated tubes is much higher, if you could just find a use for lots of hot water..some industrial process perhaps. Small-scale dairy factories anyone?

17th March 2010, 04:04 PM

PUERTOLLANO, Spain — Two years ago, this gritty mining city hosted a brief 21st-century gold rush. Long famous for coal, Puertollano discovered another energy source it had overlooked: the relentless, scorching sun.
The New York Times 8th March 2010

Puertollano, a mining center, has wooed the solar industry.
Armed with generous incentives from the Spanish government to jump-start a national solar energy industry, the city set out to replace its failing coal economy by attracting solar companies, with a campaign slogan: “The Sun Moves Us.”

Soon, Puertollano, home to the Museum of the Mining Industry, had two enormous solar power plants, factories making solar panels and silicon wafers, and clean energy research institutes. Half the solar power installed globally in 2008 was installed in Spain.

Farmers sold land for solar plants. Boutiques opened. And people from all over the world, seeing business opportunities, moved to the city, which had suffered from 20 percent unemployment and a population exodus.

But as low-quality, poorly designed solar plants sprang up on Spain’s plateaus, Spanish officials came to realize that they would have to subsidize many of them indefinitely, and that the industry they had created might never produce efficient green energy on its own.

In September the government abruptly changed course, cutting payments and capping solar construction. Puertollano’s brief boom turned bust. Factories and stores shut, thousands of workers lost jobs, foreign companies and banks abandoned contracts that had already been negotiated.

“We lost the opportunity to be at the vanguard of renewables — we were not only generating electricity, but also a strong economy,” said Joaquín Carlos Hermoso Murillo, Puertollano’s mayor since 2004. “Why are they limiting solar power, when the sun is unlimited?”

Puertollano’s wrenching fall points to the delicate policy calculations needed to stimulate nascent solar industries and create green jobs, and might serve as a cautionary tale for the United States, where a similar exercise is now under way.

For now, electricity generation from the sun’s rays needs to be subsidized because it requires the purchase of new equipment and investment in evolving technologies. But costs are rapidly dropping. And regulators are still learning how to structure stimulus payments so that they yield a stable green industry that supports itself, rather than just costly energy and an economic flash in the pan like Spain’s.

“The industry as a whole learned a lot from what happened in Spain,” said Cassidy DeLine, who analyzes the European solar market for Emerging Energy Research, a firm based in Cambridge, Mass. She noted that other countries had since set subsidies lower and issued stricter standards for solar plants.

Yet, despite the pain that Spain’s incentives ended up causing, in many ways they fulfilled their promise, Ms. DeLine said.

“Even though incentives can create bubbles and bursts, without them this industry won’t take off,” she said. “The U.S. is really behind Europe on this, and if we wait until solar is cost-competitive on its own, we may miss the boat and an opportunity to shape the market.”

The most robust Spanish solar companies survived the downturn, have restructured and are re-emerging as global players.

For example, when the government changed course, Siliken Renewable Energy, originally a producer of solar panels, shut its factories for five months and cut its staff to 600 from 1,200. But after shifting its focus to external markets like Italy, France and the United States, and diversifying into solar support services, the company now turns a profit.

“We were a company that banks trusted, so we could make the shift,” said Antonio Navarro, a company spokesman. “But a lot of little companies disappeared.”

The period was particularly difficult because it coincided with the global economic crisis, he said.

To encourage development of solar power and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, Europe has generally relied on so-called feed-in tariffs, through which governments pay a hefty premium for electricity from renewable resources. Regulators in the United States have favored less direct incentives like requiring municipalities to buy a percentage of their electricity from companies making renewable energy, although a few cities and states, most notably Vermont, are experimenting with the feed-in concept.

When it was announced in the summer of 2007, Spain’s premium payment for solar power was the most generous anywhere — 58 cents per kilowatt-hour — with few strings attached.

In retrospect it was far too high. “Everyone from all over the world was installing in Spain as fast as they could, and every biologist who could add was working in solar,” said Pedro Banda, director general of the Institute of Concentration Photovoltaic Systems, one of the research institutes in Puertollano.

Even inefficient, poorly designed plants could make a profit, and speculation in solar building permits was common.

Although Spain’s long-term goal had been to produce 400 megawatts of electricity from solar panels by 2010, it reached that milestone by the end of 2007.

In 2008 the nation connected 2.5 gigawatts of solar power into its grid, more than quintupling its previous capacity and making it second to Germany, the world leader. But many of the hastily opened plants offered no hope of being cost-competitive with conventional power, being poorly designed or located where sunshine was inadequate, for example.

Designs for solar power plants vary. The most common type uses photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. Others, called thermal solar plants, use mirrors to focus the sun’s energy on a liquid that, when heated, drives a steam turbine.

In its haste to create a solar industry, Spain made some miscalculations: solar plants can be set up so quickly and easily that the rush into the industry was much faster than anticipated. And the lavish subsidies inflated Spanish solar installation costs at a time when they were rapidly decreasing elsewhere — in part because of increasing competition from panel makers in China, but also because higher volumes produced economies of scale.

In Spain, the tariff, now adjusted quarterly, is about 39 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from freestanding solar power plants, and slightly higher for panels on rooftops.

Germany’s tariff, 53 cents per kilowatt-hour, is expected to fall at least 15 percent this summer, and there are proposals before Parliament to eliminate subsidies for solar plants on farmland.

The bonus payments required to make solar energy financially viable vary, depending on local sunshine and the cost of conventional energy. Experts predict that, possibly by next year, Italy will be the first place where solar-generated electricity will not need subsidies to compete with electricity from fossil fuel. Italy has abundant sun and sky-high energy rates, given that it imports most of its fossil fuel.

Even with the reduced incentives and local economic downturn, the solar industry gave Puertollano something of a face-lift and, potentially, a new economic future. Research institutes there are developing cutting-edge technologies. Unemployment, though now up around 10 percent, has not returned to the 20 percent figure. The city is home to a number of solar businesses: a new 50-megawatt thermal-solar plant owned by the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola created hundreds of jobs.

Although coal mines still dot the landscape and a petrochemical factory remains one of Puertollano’s largest employers, that new solar plant sits just next door, with more than 100,000 parabolic mirrors in neat rows on about 400 acres of former farmland. Clean and white as a hospital ward, it silently turns sunshine into Spanish electricity.

This looks to be an ongoing theme now, and I have been advised that the curent trade price for solar PV panels is more like NZ$4.00 per watt. It's dropping fast as China is now making at least 50% of the world's production. A massive change in just a couple of years.

6th April 2010, 09:20 PM
Colin James's column for the Otago Daily Times for 6 April 2010
An Easter message on some things thought sinful.

Climate change challenges come in many forms, quite apart from that of making sense or nonsense of the numbers. Here is another: genetic modification.

New Zealand has adopted as official policy a quasi-religious ban on genetic modification (GM). There is a similar quasi-religious ban on nuclear power. This post-Easter week a big international meeting in Wellington will -- at least by inference -- raise the GM one.

The meeting, of the New Zealand-initiated Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, involves officials from 30-plus countries, including all those with the biggest economies. Twenty-eight have joined. Brazil, China and Korea are observers.

Cabinet folklore has it that eight heads of government told John Key at Copenhagen in December that his and Tim Groser's initiative was the most positive thing to come out of that meeting, which is not too far wrong. (Former Environment Minister Simon Upton, now the OECD's environment director, three years ago seeded the idea at the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum but that does not diminish Key's achievement.)

This week's meeting will focus on how the alliance is to be run -- a charter is to be finalised over the next year -- how it will be financed -- so far the United States, $US90 million over five years, and New Zealand and Canada, $NZ45 million and $CDN27 million over four years, have chipped in -- and the research focuses.

The four main areas are: extensive agriculture, New Zealand's specialty; intensive livestock farming, common in Europe; arable cropping; and paddy-field farming.

There is also an intellectual property issue: how to make sure information is shared to maximise the value of the research. The United States, normally very prickly on IP, said, in the words of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on 16 December: "Just as climate change has no borders, our research should not."

Globally, agriculture accounts for 14% of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Only some is from the belching of farm animals. Gases released by tilling the soil growing crops for poor people is a major source.

Getting this recognised by rich countries through an alliance with poorer countries and skilful lobbying by officials, backed by ministers, over the past two years was a signal New Zealand success: agriculture is now a serious part of the global talks.

Most agricultural GHGs released here are ruminant animal methane and gases released from use of nutrients (fertilisers) and from livestock effluent. But New Zealand does share with poorer countries the fact that a high proportion of GHGs is from producing food.

Two facts flow from that.

One is that agriculture, made up of biological systems, is far more complex than most GHG-generating systems, for example, power stations. There are no simple solutions.

The second is that, whereas doing less can reduce GHG emissions, doing less of agriculture is not an option. Without food, people die.

And the world is producing more people, fast. That expansion is projected to slow and the total population to flatten off -- but not until today's 6.8 billion has reached around 9 billion by 2050.

A huge amount more food will be needed over the next 40 years -- not just to feed more mouths with the basics but to cater to more sophisticated tastes of the rapidly expanding middle classes in "emerging" economies. There is not enough extra land to produce the extra food on current practices.

To some extent this additional demand can be met with better management of water, stocks and distribution. Much food is wasted. But even then, much more food will have to be produced -- and even more intensive agricultural activity will be needed if more land is used for crops for biofuels.

So there is a dual need for research.

One need is to find ways to generate food with lower emissions for each unit of food. That is especially important to New Zealand which needs, along with other rich countries, to show willing to get poorer countries join any climate change action. That needs lower-methane animals. As it happens, the bulk of the world's ruminant animal methane scientists work here.

The second need for research is to find how to grow more food on existing land with existing water. One solution, already well advanced, is genetic modification.

And nuclear power is an alternative to fossil-fuel-generated electricity.

Those solutions will be adopted in countries less endowed and more crowded than this one. That will pose a large question for the quasi-religious belief here that both solutions are sinful: is not allowing starvation or the damage from climate change more sinful?

It is perhaps apt that the research alliance is meeting just after Easter. The original Easter message was the remission of sin. Over the next 10 or 20 years the remission of others' supposed sins of GM and nuclear power is likely to be asked of New Zealanders.

The response will not come easy. But, if in character, it will be pragmatic and down-to-earth.

Colin James, Synapsis Ltd, P O Box 9494, Wellington 6141
Ph (64)-4-384 7030, Mobile (64)-21-438 434, Fax (64)-4-384 9175
Webpage http://www.ColinJames.co.nz

I think this discussion by Colin is fairly on the mark. We need to be more efficient and profitable with our land-based industries, there's plenty of potential there. And ultimately, fission (and/or fusion) power would allow us to keep most of our land and water in a better state.

7th April 2010, 06:15 PM
Tue Mar 23, 1:37 am ET
TOKYO (AFP) – A company backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Toshiba are in early talks to jointly develop a small nuclear reactor, the Japanese electronics giant said Tuesday.

The Nikkei business daily earlier reported that the two sides would team up to develop a compact next-generation reactor that can operate for up to 100 years without refueling to provide emission-free energy.

The daily said the joint development would focus on the Traveling-Wave Reactor (TWR), which consumes depleted uranium as fuel. Current light-water reactors require refueling every few years.

"Toshiba has entered into preliminary talks with TerraPower," said Toshiba spokesman Keisuke Ohmori. "We are looking into the possibility of working together."

Gates is the principal owner of TerraPower, an expert team based in the US state of Washington that is investigating ways to improve emission-free energy supplies using small nuclear reactors.

Unlike the current reactors at mega power plants, the smaller types could be introduced by cities or states or in developing countries more easily.

Ohmori said Gates, together with other TerraPower executives, had visited a Toshiba laboratory for nuclear power research near Tokyo last year.

"TerraPower is developing a small nuclear reactor and Toshiba is developing a different kind of small reactor. They were interested in Toshiba's technology and aiming at practical realisation" of small reactors, he said.

Ohmori said the two sides had just begun to "exchange information" but stressed that "nothing concrete has been decided on development or investment."

Gates is expected to use his personal wealth to back the development of TWRs and his investment could reach several billion dollars, the Nikkei said.

The news boosted Toshiba's share price by around four percent Tuesday.

The Nikkei said TerraPower had decided to join hands with Toshiba as it lacks the know-how to manufacture nuclear power equipment.

Toshiba, which owns US nuclear plant maker Westinghouse, has developed a design for an ultracompact reactor that can operate continuously for 30 years.

The company is preparing to apply for US approval to start constructing the first such reactor as early as 2014 and put it into practical use by the end of the decade, Ohmori said.

Not a bad idea, distributed power. Pebble bed reactors are another area being worked on.


27th June 2010, 07:54 PM
At Fieldays this year, Novel Ways staff had a bit of fun with the Innovation judges: we entered the Invention awards with an apparatus that supposedly scavenged some electricity from photosynthesis.

Connected to a 6 mtr cabbage tree (Cordyline Australis) by a "graft" at the base was some umbilical tubing filled with green liquid, terminated in an electronic box that had a display showing the power levels. A steadily rising humming noise indicated the charge level, and when high enough, a 200W 230VAC light bulb lit up. We also ran an electric drill.

It only ran for a few seconds at a time (only because we were inside), and our judges discussion was peppered with terms like "fuel cells, electrolyte, phloem, electrons, protons, sap" .

Partly because we have always been straight up before (and we'd obviously spent quite a bit of effort on the "invention"), but mostly because we all want to see a replacement for fossil fuels, we very nearly won the top prize this year. One judge with a Doctorate and plenty of electronic experience grinned widely and mentioned parallels with certain articles on Country Calendar (turkeys in gumboots etc). The other 9 judges didn't pick it up.

The tree is now planted in front of our workshop (hope it survives!) minus the battery and cable. Many thanks to the talented Dan Collins (then NCEA level 2, Aquinas College, Tauranga, now at UOW Engineering School, for the development work).

What I did want to point out at Fieldays was the rather lossy process of photosynthesis, especially when humans enter well up the food chain (i.e. above ruminants). Any of us connected with the agricultural sector need to be reminded of this fact from time to time.

24th August 2010, 09:16 PM
If farms used more of their area to gather solar energy for the grid, we might be short of meat and milk products worldwide. But there are other possible ways of making this up. Research is ongoing.


22nd November 2010, 07:59 AM
Along the biofuel theme, LanzaTech in Parnell, Auckland looks to be doing very well with technology to convert polluting industrial gases into ethanol with a special strain of bacteria. The bacteria strain they developed has been patented.


10th April 2011, 08:04 PM
Solar panel PV prices are still dropping, here's an article for panels being sold in 2009, others quoting US$1.65 a watt trade bulk prices in 2011.



This chart shows the phenomenal changes in the solar PV market in the last few years. Today, you can buy a 180 watt panel in NZ at retail for NZ$3.33 a watt. Just a few years ago it would have been $10 a watt.

21st June 2011, 06:13 PM
Just released, new detail on the Moree Solar Farm. (http://www.moreesolarfarm.com.au/). Starting construction in 2012, and continuing for 4 years, this PV grid will use 650,000 solar panels to supply power to the Australian national grid, and will provide enough power for 45,000 households.

31st August 2011, 07:13 PM
Another solar farm, to be used for desalination of seawater.


I also read elsewhere, that (in some Australian states at least), PV panels can send power into the grid for the same cost as coal-fired electricity. That's a great move ahead, the trade price for panels being less than AUD$3.00 a watt.

19th September 2011, 09:07 PM
Ocean Nutrition Canada have discovered an algae that is 60 times better at producing oils than other breeds. It's called ONC T18 B.


31st January 2012, 08:34 PM
Some good moves being made towards a large-scale reservoir for irrigation in Hawkes Bay.


23rd April 2012, 07:55 AM
Aquaflow in Nelson are starting to talk bigger, with plans to build an algae and biomass combined biofuel plant in USA, Australia or NZ, bypassing a smaller pilot plant they'd planned.


11th July 2012, 09:27 AM
China is quadrupling the size of its planned solar farm arrays, to help use up an oversupply of solar panels, and support the price for them. This is truly big scale.


Note that it's likely China will install 30GW of extra solar capacity by 2015. This is a lot of renewable power. In fact NZ uses 140PJ of electrical energy in a year, which is an average of just 4.4GW over all 24hrs. So this set of panels in China would be enough to run all of NZ, if the spare output was stored by say pumping water up to a head and using hydro in times of low solar incidence.

24th July 2012, 07:28 AM
Here's another way of storing the energy: heating up a large tank of salt, and then using it to produce steam for a standard thermal power plant.


Cost-effective diesel from algae looks a step closer, if sited close to a plant producing spare CO2 (a bit like Huntly Power Station for example).


18th October 2012, 10:24 PM
Joule have recently teamed up with Audi, allowing Audi to be the first movers with their new fuels. Joule have a bioengineered organsim that uses CO2, light and water to directly secrete liquid fuels instead of multiplying. No shortage of funds, they obtained $70mill earlier this year.


More than a promising technology, Joule® is advancing a platform for renewable fuel and chemical production that is expected to eclipse the scale, productivity and cost efficiency of any known alternative to fossil fuel today.

The company's Helioculture™ platform incorporates proprietary, engineered photosynthetic microorganisms to directly produce infrastructure-ready diesel, ethanol and multiple chemicals with no dependence on biomass feedstocks, agricultural land or fresh water. In parallel, Joule has developed a novel SolarConverter® system to enable the direct, continuous process with productivities that will be up to 100X greater than biomass-dependent methods, which require numerous energy-intensive steps and downstream processing to achieve an end product. In contrast, using sunlight, non-potable water and waste CO2 from industrial emitters or pipelines, Joule ultimately targets productivities of up to 15,000 gallons of diesel and 25,000 gallons of ethanol per acre annually, at stable costs as low as $50/bble and $1.28/gallon respectively (without subsidies).

This unprecedented combination of scale, cost efficiency and infrastructure readiness will allow Joule to leapfrog the incremental progress of biofuels and create an entirely new industry around sustainable, localized solar fuel production.

Joule has successfully pilot-tested its platform for over two years, initiated operations at its SunSprings™ demonstration plant, and launched a global subsidiary, Joule Fuels, to deploy fuel production sites worldwide.

Joule is privately held and headquartered in Bedford, Massachusetts with operations in Leander, Texas; Hobbs, New Mexico; and The Hague, Netherlands.

More background, it's a modified cyanobacteria. http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/birdmitesorg/message/29693

28th November 2012, 10:59 PM
Solarzyme is a listed company, and is supplying an algae biofuel mixed with diesel for a limited testing period, in America.


But here is an article showing the truly vast amount of phosphate fertiliser that would be needed to be recycled by algae, to produce the world's liquid fuels each year. Phosphate is an increasingly important limitation on the world's food supplies.


18th September 2013, 08:42 PM
In 2012, 2013, solar cell prices continues to drop, and an accord was reached in July this year to set a minimum price per watt for solar panels. This was to halt the further loss of jobs in EU PV firms, which had been decimated by Chinese imports.


The minimum price was reportedly US56c a watt of output, and this is definitely hitting the sweet spot for many new applications.

30th October 2013, 07:24 PM
Some interesting advances in supercapacitors - best results yet, using silicon as a base material. Replacing large batteries with light flat supercaps could be quite possible in the future. Still a bit lower than the energy density in LiIon batteries.


27th December 2013, 10:25 PM
A simpler method of getting to the oil stage, with algae as the starter. Short on the energy and nutrient inputs though, in this article.


24th January 2014, 10:13 PM
This project for Abu Dhabi looks useful. The nutrients are used to feed saltwater fish and shrimps, and mangroves get the leftovers and are converted to biofuels.


15th February 2014, 09:09 AM
Fusion energy is the holy grail of many scientists, and here is an unexpected breakthough of a short fusion reaction being achieved by using concentrated lasers on a small brew of Deuterium and Tritium that was encased in plastic. It produced 1% more energy than was put into the internal capsule, and they hope to improve it further.


Here's more detail: the full view is that the experiment produced 17kJ of energy from Fusion, about 1% of the amount used to fire it up. But it's still a big step in the right direction.


2nd June 2014, 08:19 PM
Gizmag has a writeup on this revolutionary Archimedes-type wind turbine. This could be huge, if it's as efficient as they say it is.


13th October 2014, 09:25 PM
Gizmag has the latest fusion idea (a dynomak), a sphere that contains the plasma using plasma as a barrier, and this could produce energy at about the same price as coal, and it's unlimited.


28th October 2014, 10:09 PM
Solar PV is still dropping in price, and energy to households from PV panels should match the price of gas generation, from around 2025.


14th September 2015, 08:35 PM
In fact, another 40% drop in the price of installed solar PV is anticipated in two years.


Even looking at the raw cost of the panels per watt, US50c/watt is looking normal now.

20th October 2016, 10:40 PM
Pastoral grazing could be more energy efficient with this new seaweed discovery by CSIRO, and it reduces farm emissions.