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By Robert Rapier on Aug 30, 2009 with no responses

A Pair of Odd Energy Stories

I am working on a story inspired by last week’s Wall Street Journal article:

U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty

It is taking longer than anticipated, but hopefully I will have something up tonight or early tomorrow. Until then, I thought I would share a couple of odd energy stories this Sunday. The first, courtesy of Solar Roadways’ press page:

US DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AWARDS $100,000 RESEARCH CONTRACT TO SOLAR ROADWAYS

Funds intelligent roads and parking lots

SOLAR ROADWAYS, SAGLE, IDAHO (August 25, 2009)- Solar Roadways today announced that it has been awarded a DOT contract that will enable them to prototype the first ever Solar Road Panel.

The Solar Roadways will collect solar energy to power businesses and homes via structurally-engineered solar panels that are driven upon, to be placed in parking lots and roadways in lieu of petroleum-based asphalt surfaces.

The Solar Road Panels will contain embedded LEDs which “paint” the road lines from beneath to provide safer nighttime driving, as well as to give up to the minute instructions (via the road) to drivers (i.e. “detour ahead”). The road will be able to sense wildlife on the road and can warn drivers to “slow down”. There will also be embedded heating elements in the surface to prevent snow and ice buildup, providing for safer winter driving. This feature packed system will become an intelligent highway that will double as a secure, intelligent, decentralized, self-healing power grid which will enable a gradual weaning from fossil fuels.

Replacing asphalt roads and parking lots with Solar Roadway panels will be a major step toward halting climate change. Fully electric vehicles will be able to recharge along the roadway and in parking lots, finally making electric cars practical for long trips.

It is estimated that is will take roughly five billion (a stimulus package in itself) 12′ by 12′ Solar Road Panels to cover the asphalt surfaces in the U.S. alone, allowing us to produce three times more power than we’ve ever used as a nation – almost enough to power the entire world.

I like the idea of converting roads into energy producers, but it seems like a real long-shot. A number of questions immediately spring to mind, but their FAQ attempts to take many of them on. I call it to your attention not because I think it will work (I haven’t had time to study it), but simply because of the novelty of the idea.

The second story is about a highly integrated variation of the algal fuel concept in Arizona:

Farmer turns waste into electricity

How it works

• Farm waste (straw, wood chips, cattle manure) heated in “gasification” unit.

• Gasification produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and creates a charcoal-like fertilizer called “biochar.”

• Gases are burned to make electricity, producing carbon dioxide.

• Carbon dioxide is pumped into ponds to nourish algae.

• Small crustaceans called daphnia eat the algae.

• Daphnia are harvested, pressed and cooked to process oil.

• Oil is refined to biodiesel; daphnia waste can feed animals.

• The biochar, electricity, biodiesel and daphnia waste is sold.

I was asked to comment on the scheme, and did so near the end of the article – following comments from Professor Mark Edwards, whose book I reviewed here. As I said, it is pretty complicated and interconnected, which provides more technology risks. Water usage in the desert will also be high, unless they are using some kind of waste water.

On the other hand, I think algal fuel can only work as part of an integrated scheme that provides other products/benefits (unless of course there is a breakthrough in which algae can be made to excrete their oil without having to harvest them).