Water From Thin Air:  A New Frontier?

Water From Thin Air:  A New Frontier?

It is hard to tell whether sustainable energy or water shortages will be the biggest crisis in the future, but both are big. We have been watching for any new ideas to deal with water shortages. The standard approaches of desalination continue to be the dominant technologies—steam distillation and reverse osmosis. Both are exceptionally capital- and energy-intensive. They tie one to being close to a salty water source and create issues of disposing of hyper-salty water. And prices have been stuck at $2-3 per 1000 gallons.

Better water use efficiency is still a better option, but eventually, with all the climate change-induced droughts, creating more supplies in certain regions is going to take center stage.
One option that may approach a breakthrough is the extraction of water from the natural humidity in the air. To date, these have just been far too expensive to make sense. And there have been improvements to the 3,000 year-old schemes to collect fog droplets with various types of nets, in limited areas where fog is routine. Now some research teams have been looking at materials to absorb moisture from the air and release it with modest energy use. This too has been looked at for decades, but to date has been crazy expensive. This new research may have cracked the cost barrier. It is based on the use of Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) and a team at Johns Hopkins University may have come up with the best one to date.

MOFs have the highest surface area-to-volume ratio of any known material which makes them ideal for trapping moisture. If you could unfold one gram of the material, it would cover a football field. The idea is to trap the moisture in this framework and then release it with a modest amount of heat (60°C for about an hour) with the exhaust cooled down to condense the water vapor. It was an interesting idea when researchers at UC Berkeley showed that one kilogram of a MOF could yield 100 milliliters of water per day. Now the Johns Hopkins team have upped the result to 8.66 liters (2.3 gallons) of water per day per kilogram of their new MOF. (Their published article is here.) That puts the idea in the range of something that is commercially feasible.

The researchers haven’t taken it that far, but it would not require anything operating at high pressures, and the MOF would be suspended in big metal boxes with air blowing over it, and pretty simple heating tubes and condensers. The whole process of separating water vapor from seawater is left to the sun to perform naturally. The MOF is made from materials that are not that exotic—zirconium, chromium, zinc, copper, and aluminum, for example. And not all that much is needed to create beds that are 2 mm thick. Clever idea that is likely to lead to someone taking it to market.

Graphic from John Hopkins Advanced Physics Lab

Graphic from John Hopkins Advanced Physics Lab

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStart's Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | TobinBlueTech Valley, Revrnt, River City Bank

Moss AdamsPowerSoft.biz, Greenberg Traurig, California Mobility Center

Resurgence in Clean Tech Companies Noted in Comstock’s

Resurgence in Clean Tech Companies Noted in Comstock’s

In the December Innovation issue, Comstock’s Magazine ran an article entitled “Power Surge” discussing the boost in new clean tech companies in the region.  Included in the article were profiles on RePurpose Energy, Simpl Global, Hank, and Spin Storage. If you’re not a subscriber, you should consider spending $18 to become one. Comstock’s has been a long-term supporter of CleanStart and we appreciate that they see clean tech as an important component of the regional economy.   We hope to do our usual survey of the clean tech sector in the coming year, hoping Covid does not make this impossible.  That should give us a very good view of how the sector is growing.  We know that there has been an unusually large number of new companies formed in the past two years, but we also see that some of the stalwarts from prior years have been hammered by the pandemic. 

 

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStart's Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | TobinBlueTech Valley, Revrnt, River City Bank

Moss AdamsPowerSoft.biz, Greenberg Traurig, California Mobility Center

Hot and Overcast: Why We Need Innovation.

Hot and Overcast: Why We Need Innovation.

In the past week, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) has issued a number of Flex Alerts. Flex Alerts are voluntary calls for consumers to conserve energy. On social media SMUD shared this call. It might seem like renewable energy has made this a new normal, but innovations will lead us out. Sacramento can be part of this innovation.

Why do we have Flex Alerts? The CAISO gives us a clear answer: “A Flex Alert is typically issued in the summer when extremely hot weather pushes up energy demand as it reaches available capacity. This usually happens in the evening hours when solar generation is going offline and consumers are returning home and switching on air conditioners, lights, and appliances.” In short there may not be enough power for the grid. 

This is due to adoption of renewable energy sources which have reduced emissions and improved our quality of life but also don’t produce power 24-7. Utilities and the CAISO model the energy to avoid shortages, you can learn more in CleanStart Associates Smith’s Blog

This should not be the NEW NORMAL. Yes, we will have more flex alerts, especially on hot overcast days BUT continued innovation will overcome this. With new energy storage technology and demand response systems. 

Increased storage will help match energy supply with demand, storing the excess produced by systems like solar and wind to be used later. Demand response is a solution like the Flex Alert. It is changing the energy demanded by a utility consumer behind the meter, to better match the power supply. Future demand response systems hope to do things like temporarily stop Electric Vehicles from charging (even having Electric vehicles discharge as part of storage) or turn off appliances that aren’t needed. Demand Response might only reduce a household’s demand by 100 watts, but over a territory like SMUD’s it adds up. There are over 180,000 households, multiplying 100 watts into 18 Megawatts. (Added Benefit 18 Mwh is ~8,800 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions in California)

New technologies being developed right here in Sacramento can help to overcome this and provide grid resiliency. From Storage like Off The Wall Energy, DAE, Empower Energy, SPIN, and RePurpose to companies working on demand response like Grid Rabbit. CleanStart is committed to building the region into a cleantech hub, help support the innovation that will reduce flex alerts and build the local economy, support CleanStart.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas is the Executive Director of CleanStart. Thomas has a strong background in supporting small businesses, leadership, financial management and is proficient in working with nonprofits. He has a BS in Finance and a BA in Economics from California State University, Chico. Thomas has a passion for sustainability and a commitment to supporting non-profits in the region.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | Tobin, Moss Adams GreenbergTraurig

BlueTech Valley, PowerSoft.biz, Revrnt, Synbyo, Califronia Mobility Center

2020 Predictions

2020 Predictions

Since I went 4.5  for 10 last year I felt I needed to return to my terot cards take another shot at ten fearless predictions for the coming year.  We will revisit these at the end of the year to see how we did.  If you have some insights or questions, let us know at Info@cleanstart.org and we will include those in a future newsletter.

    1. The momentum for the “hydrogen highway” will stall out.  Battery electric vehicles are proving to be superior to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in almost every way.  As a result, sales of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are lagging expectations and hydrogen sales have grown slowly.  About 152,000 battery electric and plug-in hybrids were sold in the state in 2019, compared to about 1500 fuel cell electrics.  Only 8 FCEVs were sold in the last quarter of 2018 in our ten-county region. Probably fewer than 30 were sold here in all of 2019.  The total registrations for FCEVs in the state stands at about 6,000 at year-end, while the total for battery and plug-in electrics is about 616,000.  (Exact data as of end of 2018 are 248,332 battery electrics, 216,042 plug-in hybrids, and 5,391 FCEVs). In 2017, the Air Resources Board projected that there would be 13,400 FCEVs in 2020 and 37,400 by 2023.  At one time, the goal was a million FCEVs by 2030. None of these will be even close to being realized.

      A huge reason is that hydrogen fuel has turned out to be much more expensive than gasoline and particularly more costly than electricity.  Currently, hydrogen is priced at about $12.50 per kg, with equivalent energy to a gallon of gasoline but with a fuel cell double the efficiency of an engine, the equivalent of gasoline is more like $6.25 per gallon.  Stated another way, gasoline costs about 12 cents per mile (at $3.15 per gallon), hydrogen 25 cents, and electricity 6 cents.

      This leads us to make several predictions for 2020: 
      • Sales of FCEVs in our region will fall below 10.
      • The number of hydrogen refueling stations will barely reach 50 statewide (there are 44 now, with 3 in our area).  Governor Brown’s goal was 100 stations by 2020, 200 stations by 2025, and 1000 by 2030. We may never see 100 stations in California.
      • The price of hydrogen locally will not fall below $10 per kilogram.
      • A major auto company will announce it is dropping its FCEV production. 
    2. The number of EV charging stations around Sacramento will exceed 1000.  According to ChargeHub, there are currently 566 charging stations within 15 km of downtown Sacramento.  Of these 478 are Level 2 (220 V) chargers and 88 are Level 3 (480 V, 110 A). We believe the total for this area will exceed 1000 by the end of the year with over 200 being Level 3.  We may also see the first fast chargers go into existing gas stations, an interesting development in itself.  
    3. One more independent EV company in the US will announce it is beginning manufacturing.  The field is getting crowded and one might think some companies would drop out.  They may, but at the same time we think there will be at least one more entrepreneur who will take the plunge. At the same time, we could see some other established car companies announce full battery electric cars this year. 
    4. There will be at least 15 nominees for Sustainable Innovation of the Year.  Stoel Rives and the Sacramento Business Journal will be conducting this contest again in 2020, the fourth year for it.  It has been a good way to highlight the best and brightest in clean tech. The number of companies nominated has been an indicator of interest in sustainability and of the level of activity in the clean tech community.  The first year, there were 16 nominees, but the number has trended down ever since. We believe there has been a surge in bringing innovations to market in our area and that should be reflected in the number of nominees. 
    5. Prices for a ton of carbon emission reduction in 2020 will still not break $20.  It has been rising slowly both in the prompt and futures markets, but the supply of carbon emission reductions has continued to grow, keeping a lid on prices.  The most recent price for carbon allowances for 2021 cleared at $19.53, so maybe next year we will have to take a closer look. 
    6. The installed cost of solar PV will rise modestly.  We were wrong about this one last year.  But with the new requirements for solar on all new homes and the continuation of the tariffs on Chinese panels, we cling to the idea that the cost will be pushed up a few cents from its current $4.50 per kW on homes. 
    7. The revenue generated by our regional clean tech companies will top $6 billion.  The last time we collected this information in late 2018, the total was $5 billion, but we see an upswell in sales success.  Maybe it will result in 20% growth over two years. Wouldn’t that be nice?
    8. A bill will be introduced in California to extend generous subsidies to homeowners to install storage.  The subsidies for PV panels are declining.  There are subsidies for grid-scale storage, but not much for the homeowner.  We expect there will be a move to change this, but it won’t pass. Maybe 2021. 
    9. Two renewable-based microgrids with over 1000 customers each will be established in Northern California.  The power shutoffs of last year are accelerating the interest of communities in creating sections of the grid that can be powered more reliably.  Already, PG&E has trucked-in engine-generators to provide power during shutoffs, but people are demanded cleaner solutions. Some clever communities, whether as part of the CCA movement or separately, are looking at solar, wind, hydro and battery combinations to give them better reliability.  Dozens if not hundreds of communities are having these discussions. There are already about 100 microgrids in the state serving a few large customers each in most cases. The question is whether this will spread to larger aggregations of customers and to the use of renewables. There are many obstacles, so getting two done in 2020 is actually a pretty aggressive prediction.
    10. One cleantech startup in our region will be acquired for a substantial sum.  We know there are several discussions underway.  Just waiting for the shoe to drop.

 Make sure to follow CleanStart this year and see how I do on my predictions.

 

Follow us on Social Media to keep upto date!

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | Tobin, EY, Stoel Rives, Greenberg Traurig LLP

BlueTech Valley, Buchalter, Moss Adams, PowerSoft.biz

College of Engineering & Computer Science at Sacramento State

Terzo Power Selected as 2018 Sustainability Innovator of the Year

Terzo Power Selected as 2018 Sustainability Innovator of the Year

On November 1, the third annual Innovation Awards were announced in 8 categories.  This event is put on by Stoel Rives law firm, Moss Adams accounting firm, and the Sacramento Business Journal.  Over 250 people attended. Ninety-five companies were nominated for these awards, ten of them for the Sustainability category.  Other categories covered food and agriculture, advanced manufacturing, government and civic technology, hardware and electronics, biopharma, medical technology, and software.  Three from our cleantech community made it to the finals. Efficient Drivetrains, the hydrid drive company that spun out of UC Davis, was a finalist in the Hardware and Electronics Category.  In the Sustainability category, Terzo Power and BoxPower were finalists. Terzo got the nod as the winner in this category, and CEO Mike Terzo gave a shout-out to CleanStart in his acceptance speech for the help we have given them over the years.  Thanks, Mike!

The top award Innovator of the Year went to Wide Open Walls, who has helped put Sacramento on the national map by adding Art Murals to buildings all over the city.

The process for these awards will start again in June next year, so be ready to apply!

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.


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