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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Diamonds and hydrogen storage

Diamond By-product Of Hydrogen Production And Storage Method

There may not be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there appears to be nanocrystalline diamonds at the end of a process to produce and store hydrogen using anthracite coal.

"The idea we explored was based on ball milling graphite processes found in the hydrogen storage literature," said Angela D. Lueking, assistant professor of energy and geoenvironmental engineering. "We substituted anthracite coal for graphite because it is abundant and inexpensive. Now, with 20/20 hindsight, we are struck by the fact that coal gasification is currently the most economical way to produce hydrogen."

Interest in hydrogen as a vehicular fuel has many researchers investigating ways to create hydrogen inexpensively; other researchers are looking at ways to transport and store hydrogen in a safe manner. Lueking's group was exploring a way to store hydrogen in carbon-based materials, and inadvertently stumbled upon a method that combines production and storage and produces nanocrystalline diamonds as a by-product.

Lueking and colleagues, who included Humberto R. Gutierrez, post doctoral fellow in physics; Dania A Fonseca, post doctoral fellow in the Penn State Energy Institute; Deepa L. Narayanan, Dirk Van Essendelft and Puja Jain, graduate students in energy and geoenvironmental engineering and Caroline E. B. Clifford, research associate, Energy Institute, ball milled powdered anthracite coal with cyclohexene. Ball milling involves mixing a slurry of anthracite powder and cyclohexene with small steel balls and mixing so that the steel balls pound the coal particles and the cyclohexene causing physical and chemical changes. The researchers reported their results in a recent online issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

"Ball milling imparts a lot of energy to the slurry," said Lueking. "There is high pressure and temperature in every impact of the balls on the slurry, but we do not really understand the structural changes in the carbon that occur in the process."

Lueking is puzzled because, unlike the graphite experiments, her anthracite experiment has hydrogen gas evolving from the mixture at room temperature. The hydrogen is either trapped in the material in a tight pore structure or a new carbon structure is being formed. The hydrogen outgassing continued for about a year and increased with addition of moderate heat.

"At first we thought the mass spectrograph was broken because hydrogen was just coming off," said Lueking. "We tried another mass spec and the same thing happened."

Wanting to know the structure of the ball milled product, and looking for carbon nanotubes, the researchers used transmission electron microscopy to investigate the small particles.

"When Gutierrez asked, 'do you know you have diamonds here?' our answer was no – we were not expecting to make diamonds," Lueking said.

What the researchers had were Bucky diamonds, a nanocrystalline diamond surrounded by onion–like layers of graphite. Diamonds are a natural form of pure carbon, but with a differing molecular structure than graphite or the graphite-like coal.

"Bucky diamonds are relatively unexplored in terms of applications," said Lueking. "Nanocrystalline diamonds, however, have major industrial uses as abrasives and in electronics. These nanodiamonds are usually created by exploding TNT in a carbon source."

The ball milling process seems a simpler and gentler way of creating nanodiamonds and especially Bucky diamonds and Lueking's team hopes that once they understand how they are forming, they can increase the yield of diamonds in the process.

"At this point, we have not isolated the step that is forming the diamond," says the Penn State researcher. "The crystallization may be hydrogen-induced, it may be a result of the high temperatures and pressures within the mill, it may be a result of the processing we have done to purify the samples for transmission electron microscopy, or, it may be a combination of all of the above."

Lueking and her colleagues currently have a variety of experiments underway including looking at anthracite coal from different mines, looking at different hydrogenating compounds and trying to understand the mechanics of ball milling, the evolution of the hydrogen gas and the formation of the nanocrystalline diamonds and Bucky diamonds.

Penn State's Consortium for Premium Carbon Products from Coal funded this research.

Solar Powered Live-aboard Catamaran

Business Proposal
Seeking Investors

Jonathan R. Cole, MBA
Light On The Earth Systems
Honokaa, Hawaii 96727
Tel. 808 775-9145 Cell/Mobile: 808 640-0127

In 1982, Jonathan Cole founded Light On The Earth Systems to develop products that integrate many renewable energy and electronic technologies to provide a high standard of living with a low impact way of life. “Light on the earth” means little or no pollution and durable products that minimize resource depletion, and at the same time maintain user-friendliness, affordable costs and profitability. These are the kind of products necessary for a healthy society and economy.

In 1996, Mr. Cole began a process of development of a new product category, the Solar Powered Live-aboard Catamaran, which integrates the high technologies of solar energy, electronics, and multi-hull luxury boats. At that time it was becoming clear that the combination of these technologies would enable the creation of products that were never before possible. Our live-aboard boat will be capable of generating all of its energy needs including power for propelling the vessel. This new crossover category of pleasure craft is designed for utilization as a waterfront apartment, as a resort unit, and as a vessel for recreationally exploring the marine environment, safely and without noise, fumes or any pollution, whatsoever. Mr. Cole, having 29 years experience with solar energy technology, has lived in solar powered homes of his own design for many years and has been developing solar products and product concepts since 1984.

Since 1996, Mr. Cole has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars of resources for research and with the assistance of other experts from around the world has developed the engineering proof-of-concept. Now with the outcomes of global warming, and the rapid growth of solar energy products getting increasing attention, the time is right for the manufacture and marketing of this product.

All technical aspects have already been demonstrated so there is no new technology involved. (In 2007 a solar powered catamaran of similar size to our design, successfully crossed the Atlantic at speeds rivaling sailing yachts. and a solar powered catamaran designed by a New Zealander is now circumnavigating the world. ) Our product integrates leading edge, currently existing, mass-produced technology in ways that will yield intellectual property and a successful, durable product. Manufacture of the hulls and cabin components can take place anywhere in the world where the manufacturing expertise and cost factors yield the best value. These components can then be shipped via containers to assembly points world-wide. Local boat-building firms will be contracted to assemble these craft for the end-user.

Requiring a careful engineering analysis, and a business strategy to allow the opening of world-wide markets, a concept has been developed which now has the necessary engineering and manufacturing personnel identified to begin to carry out the business plan. An investment commitment of $10 million is sought. Yielding as much as ten-fold return on investment over five years and up to fifty-fold return over ten years, this business venture will profit from what will likely be the largest product category of the twenty-first century – renewable energy products.

Interested investors may contact Mr. Cole directly.

Executive Summary

The Concept:
A Solar Powered Live-aboard Catamaran

• The ultimate luxurious live-aboard boat designed for low maintenance, total reliability and minimal operating costs.
• Utilizing the most efficient hull-forms to conserve energy allows 50-100 mile daily range at 10 miles per hour.
• Completely powered by renewable energy utilizing photovoltaics, wind, regenerative braking and water current generators
• 16 meters (52.5 feet) long, 7.5 meters (24.6 feet) wide
• 100 square meters (1000 square feet) of living space
• Power system is comprised of a 15 kW Photovoltaic (solar-electric) array, 1500 watts of wind generation, with 30 KwHr of battery storage and two 9.2 kW electric drives.
• Solar hot water, water collection and solar distillation.
• Air-conditioned; all electronics including large screen entertainment system; 5 screen CCTV for total vision of exterior allowing the boat to be piloted by one person; all modern appliances showcasing energy efficiency and conservation; waterless toilets; hydrogen on demand for cooking.
• Designed to be shipped in parts by container and assembled at local boatyards.
• The ultimate houseboat for use in shoreline cruises, inland waterways and short blue water crossings.

Financial objectives
• Estimated sales: 10,000 boats over ten years
• Estimated manufacturing cost per boat: $250,000
• Estimated shipping and assembly cost per boat: $40,000
• Estimated sales price: $500,000
• Estimated reinvestment from earnings over 10 years: $100,000,000
• Estimated 10 year profit before taxes: $2,000,000,000
• Estimated 5 year return of initial $10 million investment

Renewable Energy: Not Just Another Bubble

September 13, 2007
Renewable Energy: Not Just Another Investment Bubble
by Mark Braly, Contributing Writer
Davis, California []

Renewable energies and demand-side technologies have become the third largest investment class for venture capitalists (VC) in the U.S. This was just one of the messages heard by the more than 700 investors and entrepreneurs who convened on the campus of the University of California Davis this week for a three-day conference that showcased the newest in clean energy technologies.

"We have got to be smart about not replacing the old bad guys -- oil and coal -- with new bad guys. If you provide the right incentives you'll find the guys who will cut down all the trees for ethanol."

-- Ray Lane of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield, and Byers
The event, which ran Sept. 10-12, kicked off with a panel of Silicon Valley venture capitalists in a session entitled "The Green Energy of Tomorrow." The panel agreed that VC pros have expanded their notoriously short exit horizon to as much as seven years in recognition of the complications of getting these green technologies to large scale markets—and not looking for the overnight turn-arounds of the internet bubble era.

It was also apparent that personal concern about global warming was driving a new kind of due diligence among venture investors.

"We have crossed a threshold where we can talk about this differently," said Bill Green of Vantage Point Partners. "Up to now we [the U.S.] have been brain dead, which you know if you've ever traveled in Europe."

"We have got to be smart about not replacing the old bad guys—oil and coal—with new bad guys," cautioned Ray Lane of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield, and Byers. "If you provide the right incentives you'll find the guys who will cut down all the trees for ethanol."

Samir Kaul of Khosla Ventures said that incentives from the government will be important in the early stage of a clean tech start up, but that $40 to $45 a barrel oil allows a range of technologies to be competitive with oil. (Oil is now hovering at a record $78.)

In addition to sessions, presentations and high-level debates, organizers of Going Green 2007—Always On and KPMG—announced the top 100 green start ups in categories ranging from solar to bioenergy. Over 3,000 companies were nominated by a survey of investors, and the winners were selected by a panel of venture capitalists.

Packy Kelly, who heads KPMG's venture practice in Silicon Valley, said that the companies were judged on the basis of novelty of idea, size of market, value created for investors, potential impact on environment and communities, and media buzz.

Despite the west coast tilt of the winners, the number one company was Grid Point Inc. of Washington, D.C. Grid Point's president and CEO Peter L. Corsell said the company's energy management systems can make "negawatts" (energy efficiency) and distributed energy sources, such as photovoltaics, an integral part of a utility's assets.

Thus, the company is working with utilities, such as Duke Energy, in pilot projects around the country. Distributed energy sources, storage and management could replace costly, dirty peaking generating plants with utility operating rooms able to call up these resources when needed. Meaning a major objection of utility grids to distributed energy sources could be resolved.

A survey of attendees conducted prior to the "GoingGreen 2007" conference showed that three quarters expected to see an increase in funding for greentech in the coming 12 months. Nearly half of those surveyed feel that this will be a sustained investment cycle, not another investment bubble.

According to KPMG's Kelly, when asked where the funding would flow, 75% of those surveyed felt that one area of the U.S. would see a substantial increase, with the western U.S., particularly California, noted most often. Outside the U.S., 57% see the increase focused on a particular region. China, India and southeast Asia were considered the most likely destination for future greentech funding.

Clean Energy: It's All About Scale

August 8, 2007;jsessionid=35752DBA7A50C5ED8EB0F839FA0A06ED?id=49570
Clean Energy: It's All About Scale
by Ron Pernick

The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) likes to say that we are in Phase II of renewable energy development. In this worldview, the past 30 years were about developing core clean-energy technologies, and the next couple of decades will be about focusing the nation's efforts on putting (as ACORE says on its web site) "these new technologies to use in our society, with benefits for energy supply, national security, economic growth, investment, jobs, a cleaner environment, reduced risk of climate change, and improved health."

As I look out over the next 5-10 years I'm confident that the most important development in the clean-energy sector will be the scaling of manufacturing, systems integration, and equally important, technology deployment. Millions of jobs and billions of dollars will be generated in the process if policymakers, investors, corporations, and innovators get this right.

I couldn't agree more. We are moving into the next stage of clean-energy technical, financial, and policy development. And I believe it will be all about scaling up.

Clean energy is moving so far beyond the "alternative" moniker that many regions and states are now targeting 20 percent or more of their energy from clean-energy sources within the next decade or two—representing more electricity generating capacity than natural gas in many regions. Even China is targeting significant amounts of renewable energy. China's Renewable Energy Law is targeting 120 GW of new renewable energy generation capacity by 2015 (representing three times the amount of nuclear power currently on the drawing boards).

So, will clean energy technologies like solar, wind, and biofuels and its efficiency brethren like green buildings, light emitting diodes (LEDs), and the smart grid be the dominant form of global energy generation (and conservation) by 2020? Perhaps not. But will they represent the highest growth and innovation opportunity in the energy sector and double-digit chunks of our energy infrastructure? Absolutely!

Just look at the numbers to put this "scale up" in perspective. Back in 2003 the solar industry was valued at less than U.S. $5 billion globally with around 600 MW of solar manufactured worldwide. By 2006 that number had approached U.S. $16 billion with more than 2 GW of solar manufactured globally. Now, companies like German-based SolarWorld are announcing plans for 500 MW solar manufacturing facilities (in the U.S. nonetheless)—nearly equal in size to the total global manufacturing output (among all manufacturers) just five years ago.

Wind power, which in 2003 represented just 8,000 MW worldwide of new installed generation capacity, nearly doubled to more than 15,000 MW in 2006. Just last month T. Boones Pickens announced plans for a 4,000 MW wind power plant—that's equal to the total annual global install less than a decade ago. FPL recently announced that it will develop 10,000 MW of new wind power projects between now and 2012.

What will this inevitable scale-up mean to the industry? Well, we're certain to see increased M&A activity as multinationals with clean-energy interests like ADM, Applied Materials, FPL, GE, Honda, Sharp, and Toyota work to maintain or build their leadership positions. And of course, we'll see a slew of public offerings. In just the past year such companies as First Solar, Comverge, and Enernoc have gone public-with many other companies waiting in the wings. And performance for the sector hasn't been bad.

Between the beginning of the year and the end of July the NASDAQ Clean Edge U.S. Liquid Series index (CELS), a benchmark index designed by Clean Edge and NASDAQ®, was up more than 30 percent.

I firmly believe that scaling up manufacturing and driving down costs is not a luxury for the clean-energy sector—but a necessity. Wind, after 30 years of significant gains is now cost competitive in most markets in the world with limited subsidies.

Solar, while still 2-3 times more expensive than most of its energy competitors on a pure cost basis, can compete economically at the retail level in many markets when modules and systems integration are packaged with government incentives and financing schemes. As installed solar system pricing reaches $3.50 per peak watt in the next five years or so—we'll see solar competing in most utility markets without the need for significant subsidies.

As I look out over the next 5-10 years I'm confident that the most important development in the clean-energy sector will be the scaling of manufacturing, systems integration, and equally important, technology deployment. Millions of jobs and billions of dollars will be generated in the process if policymakers, investors, corporations, and innovators get this right.

It won't be easy. Many core technologies, like solar cells and wind turbines and LEDs, will become commodities—making the business proposition more difficult for players that don't innovate and capture a larger portion of the value chain. But it represents the natural "growing up" of the clean-energy sector. And, as we move into this next stage of clean-tech development, the economy will be sustainably transformed in the process.

Welcome to Phase II!

Smart Bets in Renewable Energy

Smart Bets in Renewable Energy Startups

I have been involved with developing, integrating and selling renewable energy systems for 25 years. During that entire period I have been educating myself about the full range of renewable technologies, their business models and prospects for profitability. I have also studied the historical development of a range of other technologies from automotive to electronics and communications. From observations made about technological development in a wide range of industries I have noticed that the integration of technologies is coupled to enduring financial success. There are some recurring patterns that are useful to think about when considering investing in technology and particularly early-stage investing in renewable energy companies. I will use the solar-electric industry as an example.

When a technological innovation is introduced, it is rarely without competition. Even with patents, trade-secrets, innovation and brilliant engineering, the breakthrough rapidly becomes public knowledge. Fundamental research breakthroughs, lead to fundamental products such as photovoltaic (solar-electric) panels. Large companies (Arco, Siemens, Sharp, Mitsubishi, etc.) jump in as they have the required access to capital. This competition among large firms rapidly moves the product from being scarce to being a commodity, which means that without constant improvement in manufacturing techniques the profit margins are squeezed. When a product reaches commodity status the manufacturers no longer control pricing – the marketplace does. Not the best place to be for an early stage investor looking for high risk premiums. High-risk, early-stage investments are most advisable in innovation that is enough ahead of the market to be ahead of the competition, but within the range of what is currently technologically feasible. The product which is already at or is moving toward commodity status is not a good candidate for investment seeking high returns.

How can the angel investor find great opportunities in clean-tech and renewable energy? It helps to understand the ways that technologies are interdependent.

In distributed renewable energy systems, fundamental products such as photovoltaic solar-electric generators are an enabling technology for other products known as “balance of system (BOS) components” such as inverters, charge controllers, instrumentation, batteries, etc. Remember that acronym – Balance Of System – BOS. The need for these components in order to provide the whole energy system creates a business competition among the makers of such BOS products. These companies that ride on the wave created by the fundamental product breakthroughs are often small engineering-oriented companies that are very nimble and compete for a small but important market. During this early stage of development the overall demand is small and cannot support large investments to create economies of scale or standardized integrated products. As a result, there is no standardization, but plenty of innovation. In this early phase of development all systems are custom systems, with little or no mass-produced, one-box products. This makes it very cumbersome for the customer to purchase, install and use the product.

Among these BOS firms, great ideas for components are brought to market, but often do not succeed because of business issues unrelated to the value of the product. Over time such companies generally merge or fail. Often, innovation from such firms stagnates because it is driven by the originating market circumstances that no longer exist. In other words, their products are chasing a past definition of the problem instead of designing for emerging markets made possible by current developments in other BOS technologies.

The best opportunities come after most of the BOS innovations have been demonstrated. Why? Once the high-risk proof of concept work has been done and paid for by small firms it is available to become part of something bigger. The technology enters into a period when integration of technologies into single, user-friendly products becomes possible. By this time the overall market has grown considerably and it makes sense to make significant investments in integration to turn niche markets into mass markets.

We are at that stage now in solar energy technology which has already been in the first phase of development for 25 years or more. Present circumstances are comparable to the time when Henry Ford’s limited-production automobiles had the final piece fall into place – reliable rubber tires - that made them practical and candidates for mass-production; or when Intel’s development of the microprocessor - the integration of millions of electronic components – became the linchpin of the computer revolution. Such technological tipping points that allow the integration of many technologies to create user friendly, robust, value-laden products are a good place for early stage investors to be.

Building-mounted renewable energy technology now has all the enabling technological developments in place and awaits only the integration into mass-market applications. The financiers of these product developments stand to profit handsomely.

This is the time for astute investors to cash in by backing the integration of technologies into powerful, one-box renewable energy products that will drive the economy of the 21st Century.

© Jonathan Cole