Good reads: fusion, fluids, ‘fficiency and much more

Been crazy busy this past week but there’s been no shortage of interesting news in the cleantech and green energy space, so I’ll summarize a few of them here instead of doing individual posts. BTW: Hope everyone is enjoying their summer.

Click to the next page to read about General Fusion’s new infusion of cash, new fluids that can make enhanced geothermal more efficient, a McKinsey report that details the incredible payback of investments in energy efficency, and a University of Calgary report that says Alberta would benefit tremendously by plugging into electric transportation.

* Vancouver-based General Fusion, which is trying to build a low-budget nuclear fusion power reactor, raised $9 million from private investors, which triggers a $4.5 million grant from Sustainable Development Technology Canada. It’s enough to get it through the first two-year phase of a four-year project that will see it design and build a test fusion reactor that can demonstrate “net gain.” Projected cost: $50 million. The company is aiming to build a 100 megawatt prototype power plant five years later — sometime before 2020, at least — which would beat the ITER project in France by, oh, two decades. And at an estimated $500 million it would come in at a fraction of the cost. Go, boys, go! (See MIT Technology Review story here).

* Another MIT Technology Review story takes a look at work being done at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on a new type of heat-absorbing fluid that could be used with binary-cycle geothermal power projects to boost efficiency by 20 to 30 per cent. The fluid is a mixture of organic liquid and metal nanoparticles bonded by organic “linkers.” Researchers figure that the heat-trapping efficiency of the mixture, when used as a working fluid in a closed loop to extract heat from a primary fluid (i.e. the hot water pumped from underground) can improve the economics of enhanced geothermal power projects, either by allowing a plant to be built with a smaller heat exchanger (a big part of a plant’s cost) or by reducing the depth of drilling required to access heat in rock (i.e. the fluid allows the plant to do more with less underground heat). It may sound boring, but this is potentially a huge breakthrough for geothermal.

* I encourage you to read Joe Romm at Climate Progress and his post about a new report from consultancy giant McKinsey, which has found through comprehensive analysis that a $520 billion (U.S.) investment in energy efficiency in the United States through to 2020 would yield energy savings of more than $1.2 trillion — in other words, a payback of $680 million billion. “Such a program is estimated to reduce end-use energy consumption in 2020 by 9.1 quadrillion BTUs, roughly 23 per cent of projected demand, potentially abating up to 1.1 gigatons of CO2 annually.” McKinsey wisely included co-generation/CHP as part of its analysis — a crucial component that’s too often overlooked. As Romm points out, the savings and CO2 reductions are even more impressive considering McKinsey’s analysis doesn’t even touch on the transportation sector and potential for reductions there.

* Over at the University of Calgary, meanwhile, a report has been released that shows it would be a no-brainer for Alberta to embrace plug-in hybrid vehicles. “Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles could release 40 to 90 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions in Alberta than conventional passenger vehicles,” researchers found. It’s an interesting conclusion, given that over 90 per cent of Alberta’s power generation comes from fossil-fuel based resources — coal, natural gas and oil — the highest in Canada. Now, we’ve seen studies before that suggest even with 100 per cent coal you still get emission reductions, but nowhere near 40 per cent, let alone 90 per cent. Getting those levels, researcher say, requires “smart charging systems” that could make the most of Alberta’s growing wind resources. In other words, an infrastructure that would know to charge cars only when the wind is blowing, typically at night. Of course, the potential for smart charging applies to any jurisdiction, but it’s good to see folks in Alberta giving it serious thought.

3 thoughts on “Good reads: fusion, fluids, ‘fficiency and much more”

  1. The Polywell Fusion Reactor being investigated by the US Navy has good prospects. The current research will tell us in two years or less if it is worth scaling up to a net power generator.

  2. Typo:

    in other words, a payback of $680 million.

    should be:

    in other words, a payback of $680 billion.

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