Monthly Archives: November 2011

Water, CO2 and sunlight equal natural gas

Hypersolar is developing a nanoparticle photosynthetic-based product that will produce natural gas from wastewater, carbon dioxide and the sun. Last week the company disclosed more information from its patent application concerning the process of producing renewable natural gas.

HyperSolar, based in Santa Barbara, California, was inspired by nature i.e. the technology to make natural gas is similar to the process of photosynthesis, that which plants use to create energy. The company is developing a solar-powered nanoparticle system that mimics photosynthesis to separate hydrogen from water. The hydrogen is then reacted with carbon dioxide to produce the methane, which is the primary component of natural gas. Hypersolar said that the resulting methane gas can be used as a direct replacement within existing systems that use natural gas.

Tim Young, CEO of Hypersolar adds; “For almost a century, scientists have tried and failed to ‘split water’ cost effectively to produce hydrogen and oxygen. Our process does not produce oxygen (O2), which has no significant value and is an expensive and slow reaction. Unlike conventional electrolysis, where hydrogen and oxygen atoms are completely disassociated using a large voltage, we designed our reactions to use a very small voltage and only produce hydrogen (H2).”

Young noted, that there has already been hundreds of billions of dollars invested in natural gas infrastructure. He believes a renewable natural gas fuel is a reality. However he says, the environmental risks associated with the extraction and usage of conventional natural gas is also a reality. The HyperSolar technology would create natural gas above ground, without drilling or mining.

The company intends to be competitive in future natural gas prices, and will lower its cost of production by solving wastewater and CO2 disposal problems.


Lithium captured from geothermal plants

California startup Simbol Materials thinks it can increase domestic production of lithium by extracting the element, along with manganese and zinc, from the brine used by geothermal plants.  The technology, it says, has the potential to turn the United States into a major lithium exporter.

Portable electronics and electric cars both need a steady supply of lithium. It is expected that lithium demand goes up to as much as 320,000 tons by 2020, mostly because of increased electric-vehicle use. A study by the American Physical Society in February identified lithium and zinc as likely to be very important in the new energy economy of the future.

But lithium isn’t rare. Quite the opposite.  It’s the 25th most abundant element on earth, close to nickel and lead.  Bolivia has 35% of the world’s lithium resources, but Chile and Australia dominate the worlds lithium production.  Hardly any lithium is produced in the U.S, only 5 %. At the moment, lithium producers pump mineral-rich brine from the beneath the earth’s surface into giant pools. Then the brine evaporates in the sun for up to two years, leaving lithium chloride behind. From there on the lithium is taken away to be processed elsewhere.

Simbol Materials  aims to use brine from a existing 50-megawatt geothermal plant near California’s Salton Sea.  The plant makes electricity by pumping hot water from deep underground and using its heat to make steam to drive a turbine. The plant currently injects the brine, which contains 30 percent dissolved solids, including lithium, manganese, and zinc, back into the ground after the steam is produced.  Simbol’s will now extract the elements before pumping it back into the ground. This process only takes two hours instead of two years. A major improvement, so it seems.  Simbol Materials expects to compete with the lowest-cost Chilean lithium producers, which produce lithium at $1,500 a ton while keeping it as environmentally-friendly as possible.





World’s top solar plan commences

Morrocco has been chosen as the first location for a vast solar and windfarm project across North Africa and the Middle East that may well provide 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050.

The Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), a coalition of over a dozen major companies including E.ON, Siemens, Munich Re and Deutsche Bank are behind the €400 billion carbon-free project, announced in Cairo last Wednesday that “all systems are go in Morocco.” They will start building the first power plant next year, a 500 megawatt (MW) facility in Morocco costing up to 2 billion euros.

DII’s goal is to analyze how to develop clean energy in the North Africa deserts that could supply up to 15% of Europe’s power demand by 2050. Due to North Africa’s sunlight being much more intense than the sunlight in Europe, solar photovoltaic panels used by the Desertec project could generate up to three times the electricity that similar projects in northern Europe might produce.

The first phase of the project is a 150MW, 12km2 solar facility that will cost about €600 million and will take 2-4 years to complete. Electricity production is planned to begin in 2016 at the latest.

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