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By Robert Rapier on Sep 8, 2009 with no responses

Soliciting Reader Input for Bioenergy Chapter

9/8 Update: Lichtblick/VW announcement is now in the English version of Der Spiegel:

A Power Station in Your Basement

Green-energy provider Lichtblick and German automaker Volkswagen are joining forces and promising to stir up the energy market with an unusual plan. Instead of relying on massive energy facilities, the average consumer may soon have a miniature power station in their basement.

Chief executives of Germany’s major energy suppliers usually don’t have much time for their junior counterpart, Lichtblick. The Hamburg-based green-electricity provider’s half a million customers may be “impressive,” they say, but Lichtblick works in a niche market and is no competition for the larger companies in the industry.

The ambitious new project could be worth billions of euros and generate enough electricity to replace up to two nuclear power stations or even coal-fired power plants in the near future. The technology required to put this plan into practice is highly complex, but — depending on demand and the market situation — the new setup could network 1,000, 10,000 or even 100,000 small natural-gas-powered thermal power stations and, in effect, instantly create a virtual large one.

A giant quantity of electricity could be generated by such a system. Channelled straight from the basements of individual houses, where Lichtblick plans on installing the mini power stations, it could then be fed into the public powergrid. Likewise, the mini stations could also provide a source of cheap thermal energy and warm water for each household.

Calling All Wood Experts

In 2007, I wrote the renewable diesel chapter for a book called Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems. One thing I did when I was working on the book chapter was to solicit feedback from readers on what I might have missed. Some of that feedback turned out to be quite useful, and I provided an acknowledgment in the book for the feedback from readers here.

Once again, I am working on a chapter for a book on sustainable development in the forestry industry. My specific chapter is Bioenergy/Biofuels. I am basically trying to cover all aspects of the energy-related things one might do with woody biomass. Some of the things I am covering are gasification, pyrolysis, torrefaction, hydrolysis and conversion to ethanol, production of steam and electricity, use as fuel for cooking, and use as fuel for home heating. So what am I forgetting?

Volkswagen/LichtBlick Announcement

There was an announcement earlier today that has gone pretty much unreported in the U.S., but has gotten heavy media coverage in Germany. Earlier today, the German automaker Volkswagen announced that it is partnering with LichtBlick – a German company that only sells ‘green’ electricity – to produce small combined heat and power (micro-CHP) units for homes. (For a rare story on LichtBlick in English, see Target Customer Base: One Million). Here is the only story I could find on today’s announcement in English (but if you read German you can find loads of media coverage):

Volkswagen To Sell Home Power Plants

Together with the German Green Power supplier Lichtblick, VW wants to sell tiny natural gas power plants people can install in the cellar of their homes. Besides power the VW home power plants also generate warm water and heating.

The tiny power plants are supposed to be networked and feed power into the grid when it is needed most. The plan is to replace at least two nuclear power plants.

Honda has already entered this market, and have installed their micro-CHP units in 50,000 homes in Japan. Personally I think there is great potential for these units to displace the conventional oil furnaces found in many cold climates. I have been privy to some of the cost/output information on micro-CHP from three different suppliers, and based on what I have seen I believe this will be a very strong growth market.

I should disclose, though, that while I am not invested in LichtBlick, in my new job there is only one degree of separation between them and me. So while I don’t have a direct vested interest, I definitely have a personal interest in seeing them succeed with this venture.

Offline for a Week

Finally, my book chapter is due at the end of the week, and I plan to spend my normal blogging time finishing it up (and hopefully incorporating some reader feedback). I don’t foresee having much time to blog again until after September 11th, when the first draft is due. If there is a particularly interesting story, I may post a link, but I can’t afford to spend much time writing this week.