Monthly Archives: July 2009

Toyota’s new Subcompact Hybrid

In late 2011  Toyota will  launch the  new  Subcompact hybrid of Toyota on the market. According to the Japanese Asahi newspaper, this hybrid  has a better fuel economy and a lower price  ($16.000)  than the company’s other hybrid models. Though the platform and engine will be used of the Yaris hybrid,   the  Subcompact will feature a unique name, design en hybrid system.

With the Subcompact hybrid  Toyota will try to compete against the 2010 Honda Insight,  the smallest and least expensive hybrid  currently avaible in the US Market. However the Insight  has not sold well.  The first 12 months Honda was targeting  100.000 Insight sales  in the US,  but based on average monthly sales of 2.000 to 2,500 units, will  miss the mark by a wide margin. But thanks to government incentives and gas prices of about $4,50 a gallon yet  it has been a hit in Japan.

The Honda Insight is more cost-competive about ($5.000 less) , than larger  hybrid models as the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid. But  in accordance with recent sales all three vehicles have been sold nearly identical. The conclusion might be that a part of US consumers prefer rather space  than a better fuel economy small car.   They  like some additional seating for visitors, pets and shopping bags.  Or  they buy a large sedans for image or status, especially when gas is cheap and tax incentives are not available.  But still a lot of people enjoy to drive on electric power because it is cool.

New geothermal heat recovery method

Bron: National renewable energy laboratory
Example of geothermal heat: Hot springs in Nevada. Source: National renewable energy laboratory

Pacific Northwest National Lab has been making progress in using a new method for capturing more heat from the low-temperature of
geothermal resources. Which it is hoped could result in generating  pollution-free electrical energy. A new liquid is used called biphasic fluid, which has the benefit of rapid expansion and contraction capabillities developed by PNNL’s conversion system. The  thermal-cycling  of the biphasic fluid, when exposed to heat and brought to the surface from water circulating in moderately hot, underground rock,  will power a turbine generating electricity.

Scientists added metal-organic heat carriers (MOHC’s)  to aid efficiency, which boost the power generation capacity to near that of a convential steam cycle.
‘Our intention is to enable generation from low-temperature geothermal resources to get a clean energy source without  any greenhouse gas emissions  which is  also a steady and dependable source of power’ said Pete McGrail, PNNL Laboratory. ‘ We accidentily discovered this by research on nanometerials used to capture dioxide from burning fossils fuel’ .

PNNL  plan  to have a functioning  bench-top prototype generating electricity by the end of the year.

Seattle steam turns to wood

The Seattle Steam Company, which operates two plants that produce steam for heating downtown Seattle office buildings, hotels and hospitals, has plans to replace a natural gas-fired boiler with one that uses recycled and waste wood as its fuel. For Seattle Steam, the move to biomass represents an initial step in the switch to renewable energy sources. The switch, according to the company will reduce Seattle Steam’s carbon emissions by about 55,000 tons annually. The plans for the conversion to wood fuel were already on the table in 2006, as it is now it looks like it will be this autumn when the boiler is ready for use.

Bron: Wikipedia
Bron: Wikipedia

This 115 year old privately owned company now provides steam generated from burning natural gases, diesel and oil. This supplies heat through 18 miles of steam pipeline to 200 of downtown Seattle’s largest buildings. It also uses steam for generating hot water and humidity control. Because of rising gas prices as well as Seattle Steam being the biggest single natural gas consumer in the state, the company decided to make the switch to give it a more competitive edge. Subsequently, in its effort to reduce carbon emissions, it plans to fire up a new boiler which will allow it to derive more than half of its source fuel from wood waste. The wood coming from crates, packaging material and tree trimmings will be reduced to chips 3 inches or smaller.

Some have said the choice of wood is not a particularly sensible one. It might be a lot cheaper than natural gas, but burning wood will actually release more carbon emissions than the burning of natural gas. Still, advocates of the switch say this is not entirely true. A tree absorbs as much carbon (or carbon dioxide) in its lifetime as it releases when burnt. Wood burning does not release more carbon dioxide than during it’s biodegradation (i.e. rotting). Wood burning can therefore be called “carbon neutral”. Of course, harvesting and transport operations can produce significant amounts of greenhouse gas pollution, but considering that Seattle Steam plans to use ‘urban’ wood it seems to work out in it’s favour.

Seattle Steam’s use of biomass will reduce its use of natural gas by 60% and reduce it’s carbon footprint – and subsequently the footprints of its customers – by 50% the company says. This is an enormous step in the early days of carbon recognition. Stan Gent, president of Seattle Steam explains; ‘It will move us to beyond where the State’s goal is for 2050 and we will achieve that in 2009’. The company won’t stop here in its efforts to continue the search for more alternative fuel stocks. The use of glycerol, instead of the remaining natural gas, might be a next step. Although research is still in somewhat experimental stage at this point in time, Stan Gent has high hopes for the future: ’The process of burning glycerol might be commercially available within five years, if that’s the case we have every expectation that our carbon footprint will approach zero by 2020.’

Desert sun ‘electrifies’ Europe

891149_solar_collectorThis Monday twelve European companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Munich. This will begin planning the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) targeted at providing fifteen percent of Europe’s electricity requirements through a solar power plant network in the desert of North Africa by 2050. They have allowed themselves three years to work out a technical concept, the time scale and the finances.

The Desertec Industial Initiative project, which envisions relatively low-tech solar thermal power (using mirrors in the desert) rather than an array of high-tech photovoltaic cells. This is called concentrating solar power where large amounts of sunlight are focused onto a small area. This creates extremely high levels of heat which can be converted into electricity using a steam turbine or a stirling engine. Also, the waste heat from the electricity generation could be used to provide desalinated water to dry regions, and the shade of the mirrors could facilitate horticulture in areas usually too hot to support it.  The idea of the solar thermal plant dates back to 1972, when the Club of Rome released the controversial ‘The Limits to Growth’, one of the earliest modern predictions that global demographics and global resources were unevenly matched.

The companies involved are mainly German companies, among them; Siemens, Münchener Rück , Deutsche Bank and energy company RWE. How much money each company will deposit towards this project is not as yet known. The partners hope to get a 1 billion euro funding from the European Commission to get them started. The total costs of the project have been estimated at 400 billion Euros, which will be spent on the grid infrastructure needed to carry the vast amounts of electricity north from Africa to Europe.

A very ambitious and expensive plan, which in theory should work. Scientists even say that less than 1% of the world’s deserts would provide enough space to produce as much electricity as the world currently consumes.

But one step at a time.

Energy efficiency can also lead to lower tax bills

Dollar huisjeThe making of energy efficient improvements or installing alternative energy equipment is now made more attractive as U.S. home-owners (and businesses) can be eligible for bigger tax credits. By replacing old doors and windows, installing insulation, re-modeling and building with an eye toward energy efficiency, you don’t only save money over the long run but it may also result in savings in tax. The same goes with venturing into renewable energy sources, like solar energy, micro-turbines and purchasing a hybrid automobile. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 extends, expands, and simplifies federal income tax credits for homeowners who make energy efficient home improvements. The law extends consumer tax benefits through 2010; triples the total available tax credit from $500 to $1,500, and increases the tax credit to 30% of the cost of each qualified energy efficiency improvement.


If you were to buy or lease a new hybrid gas-electric or diesel automobile (truck, car or SUV) the tax credit amount could range from $250 to $3,400 depending on the fuel economy and the weight. Some heavy hybrid vehicles, for commercial purposes, are also eligible for tax credits. The tax credit is for vehicles ‘placed in service’ after December 31, 2006 and purchased on or before December 31, 2010. The vehicle tax credit is phased out for each manufacturer once that company has sold 60,000 eligible vehicles. At that point, the tax credit for that company’s vehicles will be gradually reduced over the course of another year. More information, including the list of eligible vehicles, can be found at:,,id=203122,00.html

Home energy- efficiency improvements
Consumers who purchase and install specific products in existing homes can receive a tax credit for 30% of the cost, up to $1,500, for improvements placed in service starting January 1st, 2009, through to December 31st, 2010. Think of exterior windows, insulation, exterior doors or roofs, central air conditioning, heat pumps, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and bio gas stoves. The improvements must be expected to last at least five years and must be installed in or on the tax payer’s principal residence in the United States. Manufacturers can certify (in packaging or on the company’s web site) which of their products qualify for the tax credit. Retailers, contractors, and manufacturers should be able to help you determine what levels of insulation and what other products qualify.

Geothermal Heat Pumps, Solar Energy, Wind Energy and Fuel Cells
Consumers who install solar energy systems (including solar water heating and solar electric systems), small wind systems, geothermal heat pumps, and residential fuel cell and micro turbine systems can receive a 30% tax credit for systems placed in service before December 31st, 2016.  The cap on geothermal heat pump and solar heaters through 2016 has been removed so that there is no longer a maximum.

For the eligible systems and further information on renewable tax credits, visit:

The case for steam

Say: “Micro turbine” and people think of jet engines. And how small is micro anyhow? The smallest micro turbines (gas turbines that is) are still at least 30 kW: enough for a good sized apartment building.
Making smaller gas turbines is hard to do, engineers face extreme stresses and temperatures in rotors and bearings. The laws of fluid dynamics can not always be scaled down easily.
So, a real micro turbine in the range of 1-5kW having a long working life, a good efficiency and burning all types of fuel is still a promise.
But if we want a decentralized power system, where every household can make its own power, that is exactly what we need.

More than a century ago, Mr. De Laval, a genial Swedish engineer, invented a small steam turbine. To be more precise: he invented THE steam turbine (although Mr. Parsons deserves some credit here too)
For some mysterious reasons, soon afterwards all research efforts were focused on developing large and even huge steam turbines. Mainly because very big steam engines of the reciprocating type were hard to manufacture and unsuited for driving generators. Because now we had a second industrial revolution at hand: electricity!

What happened in the past century was that enormous amounts of money and effort were spent on the development of gas engines (the automobile industry), gas turbines (jet engines, the aircraft industry) and very little in developing steam turbines. There are a handful of manufacturers of steam turbines in this world. They all build large and very large machines. A company like Elliott promotes small steam turbines: from 500kW upwards!

If I am not mistaken, this state of affairs is likely to end. After 5 years of research a company called “Green Turbine” has developed a micro steam turbine in the range of 1-15 kW. Their 1 kW and 2,5 kW versions are working prototypes and will be rigorously tested.

The Green Turbine is not only a turbine, but a compact, completely sealed turbo generator. The turbine runs with 30.000 rpm and on account of this high speed is very compact and only 7 kg in weight.
The novel design (patented) and modern materials like plastics gives Green Turbines excellent specifications. The efficiency seems to be as good as steam turbines of a much higher output.
The design is aimed at low production costs. Compared with gas turbines the Green Turbine is almost silent.
A very important feature is the low temperature requirement of the steam; 200 C is enough. So waste heat is an obvious source of energy.

The field of application requires some “out of the box” thinking.

Where do we find a lot of waste heat: cars! Power a Green Turbine with the waste heat of a (hybrid) car and savings of 20% in fuel are easy to get.
How about yachts and small ships?

Micro CHP (Combined Heat and Power) is another obvious application. Better than a heavy Stirling engine or gas engine.

Solar energy? Yes, capture the heat, make steam and your turbine will run. Use the low temperature heat of the turbine to heat your house or swimming pool .

And, yes, also the waste heat of a fuel cell or micro gas turbine can drive Green Turbine.
We closed the circle!

The rebirth of steam

Could it be a good idea to power our future cars utilizing steam? It might sound a bit unlikely or perhaps even outdated (as it’s certainly been tried before), but according to modern-day scientists and car manufacturers , BMW being one of them, the steam engine could very well make a comeback. A well designed steam engine is considered as a potential alternative to the internal combustion engines used today. The re-introduction of this technique could be very promising to the powering of cars, rockets and maybe even space vessels in the (near) future. So how does it work?

First a bit of history. Steam force is the oldest form of mechanical traction. Although the first applications of steam in propelling a road vehicle were attempted in the 17th century, it was not until the advent of high pressure steam engines, in the early 1800s, that such vehicles became a practical proposition. Limitations in manufacturing technology and the poor condition of road surfaces, meant that nothing that could be realistically regarded as a ‘steam car’, in the sense of a car being suitable for personal transportation, was created until the end of the 19th century. That century was seen as the heyday of steam power, when steam locomotives dominated the railways.  The Stanley, produced by the Stanley Motor Car and Carriage Company, which still holds the land speed record for a steam powered automobile, was the last steam car taken out of production in 1925, when eventually being overtaken technologically by the internal combustion engine.  It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century when the conversion from steam on the rail took place and steam powered locomotives began to vanish. For a long time the steam powered engines were cumbersome. The old generators had the capacity of a few hundred megawatts. Technological developments and improvements in manufacturing techniques (partly brought about by the adoption of the steam engine as a power source) resulted in the design of more efficient engines that were smaller, faster, or more powerful, depending on the intended application. These steam powered generators can sometimes still be found in power plants and in sea vessels.

To indicate that a steam engine is viable today in cars, the German car manufacturer BMW is now developing a hybrid system that is powered by a steam engine. They named it the ‘Turbosteamer’ and it’s based on the same principle as the steam engine:  liquid is heated to form steam in two circuits and this is used to power the engine. The primary energy supplier is the high-temperature circuit which uses exhaust heat from the internal combustion engine as an energy source via heat exchangers. More than 80 percent of the heat energy contained in the exhaust gases is recycled using this technology. The steam is then conducted directly into an expansion unit linked to the crankshaft of the internal combustion engine. Most of the remaining residual heat is absorbed by the cooling circuit of the engine, which acts as the second energy supply for the Turbosteamer.

The modern usage of steam has several advantages over the use of other power sources. There is waste heat, from the burner exhaust and from the spent steam, which can be converted using thermo-electrics into extra electricity to increase the efficiency of the system. With the combustion taking place externally and being continuous and more easily regulated for temperature, oxidizers and fuel amount, these lower combustion temperatures and pressures create less toxic and exotic exhaust gases. Another benefit is that the engine requires no oil as the steam itself lubricates the moving parts. Problems with oil depletion and oil dependency could be battled using this technique. Environmental taxes therefore will also be considerably less as opposed to other mechanical techniques. So exploring the possibilities of steam powered techniques could be, once again, a profitable endeavor.

House passes Climate-Change bill

hand met plantjeA new climate energy bill is making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives this week. Named after its two sponsors, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the Waxman-Markley bill sets goals for reducing the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging companies to turn to renewable sources like solar, wind, geo-thermal and water. The bill would require the country to cut emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050, steering it gradually towards a solar and smart-grid future.

President Obama yesterday said that the House took an “extraordinary first step” by passing the climate bill on Friday, adding that he hoped it will induce action by the Senate, predicting that the legislation could make renewable energy “a driver of economic growth”.   However the vote wasn’t a clear victory for the Democrats. It was passed by 219-212, signaling the tough fight ahead as the bill goes to the Senate for consideration.   Many Republicans fear the bill will be a “job killer” because it would require businesses to pay to emit. The New York Times has noted that “while some environmentalists enthusiastically supported the legislation, others, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth opposed it”. Friends of the Earth, an international environmental organization, announced its opposition to the Waxman-Markley bill believing it to be too weak and cited support from Shell Oil Company and Duke Energy as evidence of the bill’s shortcomings.

So what does this legislation come down to? Let’s start with the cap and trade program.  In this case the government sets a limit or cap on the amount of a pollutant that can be emitted. Companies are issued emission permits and are required to hold an equivalent number of allowances (or credits) which represent the right to emit a specific amount. The total amount of allowances and credits cannot exceed the cap, limiting total emissions to that level. Companies that want to increase their emission allowance must buy credits from those who pollute less. The transfer of allowances is referred to as a trade.  In effect, the buyer is paying a charge for polluting, while the seller is being rewarded for having reduced emissions by more than was needed. Each year, there will be a reduction in the number of permits issued. Because of this, the market value of each permit will increase, stimulating companies to look for alternate means to reduce emission.

If this bill gets passed by the Senate, the development of enough renewable energy sources has to be ensured to make up for the required reduction in fossil-fuel emissions. However, the legislation contains provisions that would encourage the use, and development of, amongst others, smart-grid technologies. Last Thursday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a 3.9 billion funding in “smart grid” aimed at making power transmission around the country more flexible. With this funding, and the existence of plans for a nationwide smart-grid to be implemented in the future, methods as Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems appear a competitive and realistic alternative that will eventually help reduce Global Warming.