Illustrating the Wind Energy Story

As detailed in the recently released 2016 Revolution…Now report, the U.S. wind energy industry has forged a trajectory of sustained growth thanks to rapidly decreasing costs and increasing market demand.

Let’s take a deeper dive to better understand where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re headed in the near future.

1. The cost of land-based wind has dropped by 41% since 2008, and wind capacity has tripled in the same timeframe.

Chart 1.jpg

As you can see in the chart above, the cost of wind energy has decreased significantly in the past 35 years from more than 60 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 1980 to about 7 cents/kWh today, unsubsidized. Naturally, as wind energy has become less expensive, it has become an increasingly popular renewable energy option around the country. More than 35 years ago there was virtually no wind energy on the U.S. electric grid. Now, there is approximately 75 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity in the United States. In the past seven years alone, wind power has tripled in capacity from 25 GW to 75 GW, providing more than 5% of our consumed energy.

2. Scaling up size to capture better wind.

Chart 2.jpg

Another trend driving growth in wind farm installations across America’s landscape is the increasing size of wind turbines. As developers deploy larger wind turbines, they are able to generate even more clean electric power by tapping higher quality, steadier winds, which in turn makes more areas in more states attractive for wind deployment. And turbines are slated to grow even taller in the future, so we’ve got nowhere to go but up!

Continued investments in key technology improvements such as taller turbines and longer blades have helped drive down costs and improve performance. For example, wind energy has yet to reach its potential in the southeastern United States. However, by utilizing taller towers and longer blades to extract more energy from stronger winds at higher elevations, we can unleash cost-effective deployment in more regions of the U.S, including the Southeast.

3. The future is here for offshore wind.

Turbines-1.jpg

Photo by Dennis Schroeder/NREL

The oceans contain virtually unlimited potential for clean energy. Following on examples from abroad, the United States now (as of October 2016) has wind turbines installed off the coast of Rhode Island. This 30-MW offshore wind farm—America’s first—is slated to be fully operational by the end of the year. Last month, we released the National Offshore Wind Strategy in conjunction with the U.S. Department of the Interior. The strategy document details how the wind industry can accelerate the responsible deployment of offshore wind energy in the United States.

In fact, Revolution…Now states that “the technical potential of offshore wind resources is enough to generate more electricity than twice what the U.S. generated from all sources of electricity in 2015.” While the domestic offshore wind industry still faces challenges, the potential of this technology to capture high quality wind resources close to coastal load centers makes it a key future source of clean electricity for the nation.

4. Wind has great future potential by 2050.

Chart 3.jpg

Wind still has massive untapped potential, as shown in a recent Energy Department report titled Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States, which outlines how wind energy could generate 20% of the nation’s electricity by 2030 and 35% by 2050. Industry observers expect technological advancements to continue to drive down costs in the future. In fact, a recent survey of wind experts indicated that wind energy costs could fall another 35% by 2050. With continuous technological innovation, transmission expansion, and continued federal and state support, wind can continue to grow and unlock its wide array of benefits in all 50 states.

( Source: written by Jose Zayas Wind Energy Technologies Office Director)

New Funding to Advance Solar Technologies

Energy Department Announces Up to $107 Million for Innovative Projects and New Funding to Advance Solar Technologies

Today the Energy Department announced up to $107 million in new projects and planned funding in order to support America’s continued leadership in clean energy innovation through solar technology. Under the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) SunShot Initiative, the Department will fund 40 projects with a total of $42 million to improve PV performance, reliability, and manufacturability, and to enable greater market penetration for solar technologies. In addition to the new projects announced today, the Department intends to make up to $65 million, subject to appropriation, in additional funding available for upcoming solar research and development projects to continue driving down the cost of solar energy and accelerating widespread national deployment.

One of SunShot’s goals is to drive down the levelized cost of utility-scale solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour without incentives by 2020. The projects and new funding announced today aim to reach costs well below that threshold, furthering the Obama Administration’s commitment to advancing solar technology as a resource for clean energy in America’s low-carbon economy.

“Since 2008, the commitments made by the Department of Energy have contributed to solar PV’s deployment growing 30-fold and overall costs falling more than 60%,” said Under Secretary for Science and Energy Franklin Orr. “Continuing to invest in solar technologies will help to drive down costs even further for American consumers and ensure that the U.S. maintains global leadership in this century’s clean energy economy.”

Today’s announcements encompass several programs within EERE’s SunShot Initiative. Additional details on the announcements are below:

PV Research and Development Program: $17 Million for 19 Advanced PV Technologies

SunShot selected 19 projects to receive a total of $17 million under the PV Research and Development Program to improve the performance, reliability, and manufacturability of existing PV technology while seeking to advance next generation solar technology development. The new research and development projects focus on both current and emerging PV technologies aimed at improving power conversion efficiency and energy output, while also enhancing service lifetime and decreasing hardware costs. These projects could significantly lower solar PV costs from SunShot’s 2020 targets to support even more widespread deployment of PV technologies across the nation. Click here to view the list of awardees.

Technology to Market Program:  $25 Million for 21 Rapid Solar Innovation Projects

To accelerate the current growth trajectory of solar energy in America, the Department is also announcing nearly $25 million for 21 new projects under SunShot’s Technology to Market Program. The funding will support the development of new tools, technologies and services for the solar industry by helping to reduce hardware costs, improve business operational efficiency, and broaden the investor pool for project development. Additionally, the projects will yield products that can leverage new, emerging technologies and assist in streamlining regulatory processes. Click here to view the list of awardees.

Future Funding for PV Technology, Technology to Market and Systems Integration Programs

Later this year, SunShot intends to make up to $65 million, subject to appropriation, in additional funding available under the PV Research and Development Program, Technology to Market Program, and its Systems Integration Program. The PV Research and Development Program is expected to make up to $25 million available in funding to improve PV module and system design, including hardware and software solutions that facilitate the rapid installation and interconnection of PV systems. The Technology to Market Program expects up to $30 million to be made available for projects that accelerate the commercialization of products and solutions that can help to drive down the cost of solar energy. Finally, SunShot will make up to $10 million available under its Systems Integration Program for projects that are focused on improving solar irradiance and power forecasts that will accelerate data integration into energy management systems used by utilities.

(Source:  Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy)

New catalyst is three times better at splitting water

Summary: With a combination of theory and clever, meticulous gel-making, scientists have developed a new type of catalyst that’s three times better than the previous record-holder at splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen — the vital first step in making fuels from renewable solar and wind power.

One way to store intermittent sun and wind energy is to use it to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, and then use the hydrogen as fuel. Now scientists at SLAC and the University of Toronto have invented a new type of catalyst that makes this process three times more efficient. In this water-splitting device on the Toronto campus, hydrogen is bubbling up from the left electrode and oxygen is bubbling up from the right one.

With a combination of theory and clever, meticulous gel-making, scientists from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Toronto have developed a new type of catalyst that’s three times better than the previous record-holder at splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen — the vital first step in making fuels from renewable solar and wind power.

The research, published today in the journal Science, outlines a potential way to make a future generation of water-splitting catalysts from three abundant metals — iron, cobalt and tungsten — rather than the rare, costly metals that many of today’s catalysts rely on.

“The good things about this catalyst are that it’s easy to make, its production can be very easily scaled up without any super-advanced tools, it’s consistent, and it’s very robust,” said Aleksandra Vojvodic, a SLAC staff scientist with the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis who led the theoretical side of the work.

Storing Sun and Wind Power

Scientists have been searching for an efficient way to store electricity generated by solar and wind power so it can be used any time — not just when the sun shines and breezes blow. One way to do that is to use the electrical current to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, and store the hydrogen to use later as fuel.

This reaction takes place in several steps, each requiring a catalyst — a substance that promotes chemical reactions without being consumed itself — to move it briskly along. In this case the scientists focused on a step where oxygen atoms pair up to form a gas that bubbles away, which has been a bottleneck in the process.

In previous work, Vojvodic and her SUNCAT colleagues had used theory and computation to look at water-splitting oxide catalysts that contain one or two metals and predict ways to make them more active. For this study, Edward H. Sargent, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, asked them to look at the effect of adding tungsten — a heavy, dense metal used in light bulb filaments and radiation shielding — to an iron-cobalt catalyst that worked, but not very efficiently.

With the aid of powerful computers at SLAC and elsewhere and state-of-the-art computational tools, the SUNCAT team determined that adding tungsten should dramatically increase the catalyst’s activity — especially if the three metals could be mixed so thoroughly that their atoms were uniformly distributed near the active site of the catalyst, where the reaction takes place, rather than separating into individual clusters as they normally tend to do.

“Tungsten is quite a large atom compared to the other two, and when you add a little bit of it, it expands the atomic lattice, and this affects the reaction not only geometrically but also electronically,” Vojvodic said. “We were able to understand, on the atomic scale, why it works, and then that was verified experimentally.”

Add Metal Atoms, Mix and Gel

Based on that information, Sargent’s team developed a novel way to distribute the three metals uniformly within the catalyst: They dissolved the metals and other ingredients in a solution and then slowly turned the solution into a gel at room temperature, tweaking the process so the metal atoms did not clump together. The gel was then dried into a white powder whose particles were riddled with tiny pores, increasing the surface area where chemicals can attach and react with each other.

In tests, the catalyst was able to generate oxygen gas three times faster, per unit weight, than the previous record-holder, Sargent said, and it also proved to be stable through hundreds of reaction cycles.

“It’s a big advance, although there’s still more room to improve,” he said. “”And we will need to make catalysts and electrolysis systems even more efficient, cost effective and high intensity in their operation in order to drive down the cost of producing renewable hydrogen fuels to an even more competitive level.”

Sargent said the researchers hope to use the same method to develop other three-metal catalysts for splitting water and also for splitting carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas released by burning fossil fuels, to make renewable fuels and chemical feed stocks. He and five other members of the University of Toronto team have filed for a provisional patent on the technique for preparing the catalyst.

Future Directions

“There are a lot of things we further need to understand,” Vojvodic said. “Are there other abundant metals we can test as mixtures in oxides? What are the optimal mixtures of the components? How stable is the catalyst, and how can we scale up its production? It needs to be tested at the device level, really.”

Jeffrey C. Grossman, a professor of materials science and engineering at MIT who was not involved in the study, said, “The work impressively highlights the power of tightly coupled computational materials science with advanced experimental techniques, and sets a high bar for such a combined approach. It opens new avenues to speed progress in efficient materials for energy conversion and storage.”

(Source: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

Carbon leads the way in clean energy: New method uses cheap carbon-based catalyst to deliver energy using hydrogen

Summary: Groundbreaking research is leading the way in clean energy, with the use of carbon as a way to deliver energy using hydrogen.

Drop of water. “Hydrogen production through an electrochemical process is at the heart of key renewable energy technologies including water splitting and hydrogen fuel cells,” says Professor Yao.

Groundbreaking research at Griffith University is leading the way in clean energy, with the use of carbon as a way to deliver energy using hydrogen.

Professor Xiangdong Yao and his team from Griffith’s Queensland Micro- and Nanotechnology Centre have successfully managed to use the element to produce hydrogen from water as a replacement for the much more costly platinum.

“Hydrogen production through an electrochemical process is at the heart of key renewable energy technologies including water splitting and hydrogen fuel cells,” says Professor Yao.

“Despite tremendous efforts, exploring cheap, efficient and durable electrocatalysts for hydrogen evolution still remains a great challenge.

“Platinum is the most active and stable electrocatalyst for this purpose, however its low abundance and consequent high cost severely limits its large-scale commercial applications.

“We have now developed this carbon-based catalyst, which only contains a very small amount of nickel and can completely replace the platinum for efficient and cost-effective hydrogen production from water.

“In our research, we synthesize a nickel-carbon-based catalyst, from carbonization of metal-organic frameworks, to replace currently best-known platinum-based materials for electrocatalytic hydrogen evolution.

“This nickel-carbon-based catalyst can be activated to obtain isolated nickel atoms on the graphitic carbon support when applying electrochemical potential, exhibiting highly efficient hydrogen evolution performance and impressive durability.”

Proponents of a hydrogen economy advocate hydrogen as a potential fuel for motive power including cars and boats and on-board auxiliary power, stationary power generation (e.g., for the energy needs of buildings), and as an energy storage medium (e.g., for interconversion from excess electric power generated off-peak).

Professor Yao says that this work may enable new opportunities for designing and tuning properties of electrocatalysts at atomic scale for large-scale water electrolysis.

(Source: Griffith University)

Solar cells as light as a soap bubble

The MIT team has achieved the thinnest and lightest complete solar cells ever made, they say.

Imagine solar cells so thin, flexible, and lightweight that they could be placed on almost any material or surface, including your hat, shirt, or smartphone, or even on a sheet of paper or a helium balloon.

Researchers at MIT have now demonstrated just such a technology: the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced. Though it may take years to develop into a commercial product, the laboratory proof-of-concept shows a new approach to making solar cells that could help power the next generation of portable electronic devices.

The new process is described in a paper by MIT professor Vladimir Bulović, research scientist Annie Wang, and doctoral student Joel Jean, in the journal Organic Electronics.

Bulović, MIT’s associate dean for innovation and the Fariborz Maseeh (1990) Professor of Emerging Technology, says the key to the new approach is to make the solar cell, the substrate that supports it, and a protective overcoating to shield it from the environment, all in one process. The substrate is made in place and never needs to be handled, cleaned, or removed from the vacuum during fabrication, thus minimizing exposure to dust or other contaminants that could degrade the cell’s performance.

“The innovative step is the realization that you can grow the substrate at the same time as you grow the device,” Bulović says.

In this initial proof-of-concept experiment, the team used a common flexible polymer called parylene as both the substrate and the overcoating, and an organic material called DBP as the primary light-absorbing layer. Parylene is a commercially available plastic coating used widely to protect implanted biomedical devices and printed circuit boards from environmental damage. The entire process takes place in a vacuum chamber at room temperature and without the use of any solvents, unlike conventional solar-cell manufacturing, which requires high temperatures and harsh chemicals. In this case, both the substrate and the solar cell are “grown” using established vapor deposition techniques.

One process, many materials

The team emphasizes that these particular choices of materials were just examples, and that it is the in-line substrate manufacturing process that is the key innovation. Different materials could be used for the substrate and encapsulation layers, and different types of thin-film solar cell materials, including quantum dots or perovskites, could be substituted for the organic layers used in initial tests.

But already, the team has achieved the thinnest and lightest complete solar cells ever made, they say. To demonstrate just how thin and lightweight the cells are, the researchers draped a working cell on top of a soap bubble, without popping the bubble. The researchers acknowledge that this cell may be too thin to be practical — “If you breathe too hard, you might blow it away,” says Jean — but parylene films of thicknesses of up to 80 microns can be deposited easily using commercial equipment, without losing the other benefits of in-line substrate formation.

A flexible parylene film, similar to kitchen cling-wrap but only one-tenth as thick, is first deposited on a sturdier carrier material – in this case, glass. Figuring out how to cleanly separate the thin material from the glass was a key challenge, explains Wang, who has spent many years working with parylene.

The researchers lift the entire parylene/solar cell/parylene stack off the carrier after the  fabrication process is complete, using a frame made of flexible film. The final ultra-thin, flexible solar cells, including substrate and overcoating, are just one-fiftieth of the thickness of a human hair and one-thousandth of the thickness of equivalent cells on glass substrates — about two micrometers thick — yet they convert sunlight into electricity just as efficiently as their glass-based counterparts.

No miracles needed

“We put our carrier in a vacuum system, then we deposit everything else on top of it, and then peel the whole thing off,” explains Wang. Bulović says that like most new inventions, it all sounds very simple — once it’s been done. But actually developing the techniques to make the process work required years of effort.

While they used a glass carrier for their solar cells, Jean says “it could be something else. You could use almost any material,” since the processing takes place under such benign conditions. The substrate and solar cell could be deposited directly on fabric or paper, for example.

While the solar cell in this demonstration device is not especially efficient, because of its low weight, its power-to-weight ratio is among the highest ever achieved. That’s important for applications where weight is important, such as on spacecraft or on high-altitude helium balloons used for research. Whereas a typical silicon-based solar module, whose weight is dominated by a glass cover, may produce about 15 watts of power per kilogram of weight, the new cells have already demonstrated an output of 6 watts per gram — about 400 times higher.

“It could be so light that you don’t even know it’s there, on your shirt or on your notebook,” Bulović says. “These cells could simply be an add-on to existing structures.”

Still, this is early, laboratory-scale work, and developing it into a manufacturable product will take time, the team says. Yet while commercial success in the short term may be uncertain, this work could open up new applications for solar power in the long term. “We have a proof-of-concept that works,” Bulović says. The next question is, “How many miracles does it take to make it scalable? We think it’s a lot of hard work ahead, but likely no miracles needed.”

“This demonstration by the MIT team is almost an order of magnitude thinner and lighter” than the previous record holder, says Max Shtein, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, chemical engineering, and applied physics, at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in this work. As a result, he says, it “has tremendous implications for maximizing power-to-weight (important for aerospace applications, for example), and for the ability to simply laminate photovoltaic cells onto existing structures.”

“This is very high quality work,” Shtein adds, with a “creative concept, careful experimental set-up, very well written paper, and lots of good contextual information.” And, he says, “The overall recipe is simple enough that I could see scale-up as possible.”

The work was supported by Eni S.p.A. via the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center, and by the National Science Foundation.

(Source: MIT Energy Initiative)

New Catalyst Reduces Wasted Carbon in Biofuel Process, Lowers Cost

NREL researchers have shown that incorporating copper-modified catalysts into the dimethyl ether-to-fuels pathway increases carbon efficiency and decreases overall production costs.

The biomass-to-liquid-fuel approach remains one of the most promising renewable fuel processes in terms of its immediate impact and compatibility with existing infrastructure. Methanol and dimethyl ether (DME) can be produced from biomass, and recent investigations have shown that certain catalysts can convert these to high-octane gasoline. However, this is a hydrogen-deficient process that produces a large amount of wasted carbon byproducts that result in catalyst deactivation, thus increasing overall costs. The bottom line: because carbon-rich biomass is one of the primary expenses of the high-octane gasoline pathway, if the process is wasting carbon, it’s wasting money.

Recently, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) developed a catalyst formulation and structure that is capable of incorporating more hydrogen into the high-octane gasoline product, thus increasing the overall rate of reaction, decreasing wasted aromatic byproducts, and increasing carbon efficiency. The catalysts are comprised of a beta zeolite modified with copper, gallium, and other non-noble metals.

The metals provide sites for hydrogen addition and minimize side-reactions that produce unwanted byproducts—all with the goal of decreasing overall process costs. In addition, the NREL researchers have developed a secondary process that takes a portion of the gasoline-range product and efficiently converts it into a distillate-range fuel, 80% of which can be used as a jet fuel blendstock.

This improved DME-to-high-octane gasoline process operates under relatively mild conditions, thus offering the benefit of reduced capital and operating costs for the reactor compared to previously developed technologies.

Technical Contact: Dan Ruddy, Dan.Ruddy@nrel.gov

(Source: NREL)