Green Business Plan Competition: Start your engines

The ACS Green Chemistry Institute will be hosting a business plan competition on June 18, 2014 at the 18th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, which will be held outside of Washington D.C. The competition is for early stage ideas – but not ideas for renewable energy production or biofuels (there are no shortage of competitions for those). If you have an idea for a green innovation that only chemists would truly understand, this is your chance. The first deadline to be aware of is April 25 – that’s when to submit your 10-15 slide PowerPoint presentation and optional YouTube video. Just aim to be done by Earth Day and you’ll be right on schedule. The competition website includes a host of great links to advice on how to communicate and advance your start-up idea. And don’t forget to review (memorize them!) the 12 Principles of Green...

Read More

Help Solve a Water Problem

With blogs, twitter, and e-mail, it’s pretty rare these days that I get a phone call from a reader. But yesterday I heard from an ACS member who has a sort of meta-problem. That is, he hopes to get some outside thinking to help him define his problem, as well as to point him in new directions for possible solutions. Here’s the problem: Fresh water is a scarce commodity in many places on the planet. Several dry-arid environments have industrial operations producing excess amounts of water. That water contains excess salts, boron, ammonia, silica, and other minerals. Current operational strategy is to inject the water into below-ground natural reservoir space but that option may be limited in the future. Alternatives to disposal revolve around traditional approaches to recycle or reuse that water but I’m seeking new thinking and brainstorming of even better ways to use, recycle, and/or a novel alternative scenario for the water. With the drought in California, and the tightening of restrictions for industry’s use of water, this type of problem seems likely to pop up more and more frequently, though the specific quality issues vary from industry to industry. Please send your thoughts and insights to peter.vanvoris AT att DOT net  Or feel free to hash out your thoughts, questions, or ideas in the comments section below. Once the problem has been looked at from several angles and better defined, it may appear on crowdsourcing websites like Innocentive.   And if you need a little clean water inspiration, you can read this week’s C&EN story on Beefed-up bacteria that get the lead out of water Or a 2012 story on Treating Water From Hydraulic Fracturing Or you can check out the website of Simbol Materials, which is scaling up its technology to mine hydrothermal brines for lithium, manganese, zinc, and potassium....

Read More

The Biology in Green Chemistry

Yeast, bacteria, enzymes, proteins… may not be what immediately come to mind with the phrase Green Chemistry. But of the 93 teams that have won Presidential Green Chemistry Awards, 31 had technology that hinged on the use of biological processes or biobased inputs, point out the folks at the Biotechnology Industry Association. BIO has created a cheat sheet of sorts on the various bio-powered technologies behind past award winners, complete with summary blurbs and links to fuller descriptions. And it opens with the famous Twelve Steps, er, Twelve Principles of Green chemistry. One of my favorites is the 1999 discovery by researchers at Dow AgroSciences of Spinosad, a selective insecticide derived from a soil microbe. It is a very relevant organic pesticide used today. The fun detail, not in the blurb, is that the microbe was found in the environs of a rum distillery. Why a scientist was looking there, in the dirt, is a fun question. And more recently, a 2013 award went to Richard P. Wool of the University of Delaware who “has created several high-performance materials, such as adhesives and foams, using biobased feedstocks, including vegetable oils, chicken feathers, and flax.” These materials sound not-quite good enough to eat, but certainly quite good enough to sit on.    ...

Read More
Harnessing Entropy
Aug22

Harnessing Entropy

In Solar, a novel by acclaimed author Ian McEwan, the protagonist, a physicist named Michael Beard, has been tasked to evaluate submissions from the public sent to a UK panel looking for new ideas for clean energy. He divides them into piles: those that violate the first law of thermodynamics, those that violate the second law, and those that violate both. This cleantech reporter could relate. That’s why ideas that start with the laws of thermodynamics – rather than those that have to account for them later – are so attractive. Take entropy, for example. In our daily life we struggle against entropy – the iPod headphone wires that get totally knotted up in my handbag, the fact that the neatest person you know still has a junk drawer, and so on. This week’s issue of C&EN explores research that tries to harness the universe’s arrow-like movement to disorder. When CO2 laden emissions from power plants are released into the atmosphere, the CO2 mixes into the ambient air mass. As Naomi Lubick explains, an electrochemical cell could harvest the energy that is released when these two gases mix. Researcher Bert Hamelers of the Dutch water treatment tech center Wetsus, has developed a lab scale device to do just that. But Lubick points out that to implement such a solution would require overcoming at least two hurdles – one, the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides may foul the system’s membranes. And two, it is no easy task to dissolve huge amounts of CO2 in liquid. In fact, dissolving the gas uses quite a bit of energy. Which reminds me of another literary reference: the witches of Shakespeare’s MacBeth chant “Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble” – indeed, there is some toil and trouble involved. I know that many other researchers and technology companies are working on these two problems. For example, there are programs working on carbon capture and storage that are using liquids, catalysts and membranes to grab components of power plant emission gases. And firms such as Calysta Energy and Lanzatech have plans to use microbes to make useful products out of gases such as methane and flue gas. For that, they need to dissolve the gas in water. It is not a trivial problem....

Read More

IEA Looks To Fossil Fuel Industry to Control Climate Change

Today, the International Energy Agency put out a report saying that CO2 emissions in 2012 grew by 1.4%, or 31.6 gigatonnes. This increase means that the chances of constraining emissions to cap global warming at 2 degrees C are narrowing. When I first started covering the cleantech/renewables space for C&EN back in 2008, there was a common belief among technologists and some policy makers that within a few short years, a price would be put on carbon with policies (such as cap and trade or a carbon tax) that would act like jet fuel, powering demand for renewable fuels and related industries. But as IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven points out, ““Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities.” The good news in the report is that the growth in renewable energy production in the U.S. and Europe has helped those regions decrease carbon emissions. However, it was the switch to shale gas from coal that had the biggest impact on U.S. emissions. In contrast, growing energy demand from China and other developing nations has more than made up for those changes. (You can read C&EN’s recent coverage of the EU Carbon Trading scheme here: http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i7/EU-Carbon-Emissions-Trading-Scheme.html) IEA is pushing four policies that are all outside of the renewables space. The organization’s plan would shave 8% off the carbon emissions compared to no further constraints by: 1. Making buildings, industry, and transportation more energy efficient, to get 50% of the cut. 2. Limiting construction of the least efficient types of coal-fired power plants, for 20% or more of the cut. 3. Halving methane emissions from upstream oil and gas operations (18% savings) 4. A partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies...

Read More

What the Election Means for Climate, Energy & Cleantech

Update: Here’s a link to C&EN’s election story – including new House & Senate leaders in energy-related roles. It’s been a quiet time in cleantech news lately, what with Sandy and the election happening in back-to-back weeks. But the election – and the superstorm – are likely to have meaningful long-term impacts on energy policy. I took a tour around the internets to see what analysts and cleantech-ers are saying in their reaction to the election results. Though it was past my usual bedtime, President Obama’s victory speech caught my ear when he remarked “We want our children to live in an America . . . that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” With Congress still divided, most policy wonks suggest that any energy and environmental policy changes will have to be led by the White House. Things to watch include any movement to block the Keystone Pipeline or push forward with EPA regulations on smog that were delayed due to cost concerns. Environmentalists have signaled that they will be putting pressure on the President to use national policy to address climate change. Look for Bill McKibben, activist, author and co-founder of climate change group 350.org to be very vocal. He was quoted in three articles I read. Energy and cleantech activists are pressing for a national renewable portfolio standard that would require power generators to obtain 30% of electricity from renewables by 2030. Nearly 30 states and D.C. have such a standard, the most well-known and successful is California’s, which is headed to 33% by 2020. Wind energy backers will work to return the production tax credit. The Washington Post points out that Obama recently spoke about upgrading energy efficiency standards for buildings – codes are currently set by state and local governments. And renewables businesses will be looking for government action that might help them gain financing for facilities or adjust subsidies on competing oil and gas producers. On the other hand, Obama has been pursuing an “all of the above” energy strategy that is likely result in further development of domestic oil and gas (including hydrofracking) resources. Perhaps most fascinating to me, though also the most far-fetched, is discussion about whether the fiscal cliff, tax reform, and the deficit will drive Congress to think about introducing a carbon tax. Hmmmm… My favorite takes so far on the election and energy policy: From the Washington Post: Obama to continue efforts to curb greenhouse gases, push energy efficiency Politico: Obama’s green cred on the line in second term Marc Gunther: For green business, blue skies ahead. For climate policy, who knows? Huffington Post: Ron Pernick on Five Cleantech actions for President Obama...

Read More