Monday, August 2, 2010

Biodiesel From Coffee Grounds?

This is an all too familiar sight in the Pacific Northwest. Espresso machines everywhere. But in addition to the velvety coffee they make, what is a common byproduct of the whooshing and tapping?

Coffee grounds.

It turns out that the University of Missouri College of Food and Natural Resources is turning that byproduct into valuable fuel: biodiesel.

From the grounds they collected, U of M students turned the residual oil into a fuel. A success as part of their research, evaluating alternative feedstocks such as vegetable oils, used cooking oils and gasified shredded tires.

From their press release: "The properties of the coffee oil are similar to the properties of soybean oil, the major source of biodiesel," said Bulent Koc, assistant professor of agricultural systems management.

According to the National Coffee Association, global growers produce more than 16 billion pounds of coffee each year.  That's a lot of "alternative feedstocks." Some scientists estimate that spent coffee grounds can potentially add 340 million gallons of biodiesel yearly to the world's fuel supply.

It is said that educating students is as much art as it is science. The ultimate art form in this example is connecting two somewhat unrelated topics and creating a compelling case for scientific exploration. This is so much more than "out of the box" thinking. It is helping our students to combine unrelated elements of our society to produce solutions to aid that same society.

Your continuing work as educators helps our students do just that.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Totally Unnecessary - And Counting News

Energication is not a place for political rhetoric or partisan views or even any single-minded perspectives. (Except for the strong belief that Energy Education is needed; is valuable; is inevitable.) So the oil spill odometer is meant only to make a point about how unnecessary it is to endanger our environment for the sake of energy.

Instead of tapping an arguably limited oil reserve 5,000 feet below the surface of an ecologically fragile ocean, why not tap the immensely unlimited potential of our students and avoid these issues altogether? This is a potential that can design a future that we can only begin to imagine.

So how do we tap that potential? Energy Education.

Energication continues to promote the value of making energy a core strand in our schools. It affects fuels, the environment, civics, our legal system... Based on BP's experience, I believe you get the point.

Thank you for your continuing interest passion surrounding Energication's Energy Education.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Charge During Drive

If nothing else, we Americans are creatures of comfort. Notice that I didn't say creatures of habit, but that is true also. Yes, we do enjoy our comfort. So when I saw this example of the ultimate "creature comfort" in the realm of battery-driven driving, I just had to share it.

Batteries are today's "Achilles Heel" in our drive for electric mobility, but there's an exciting technology that could negate the need for a super-battery that will supposedly solve our energy storage problems: Inductive Power Transfer, or IPT.

IPT is in effect, wireless power transfer, using wireless magnetic energy.

Educators, think of the varied science and technology curriculum opportunities while you enjoy the video!


Monday, May 31, 2010

Education Leaders Should Exploit Solar Strategies

There are many financial models available today that allow homeowners, businesses and school districts to finance solar installation. Ranging from an outright purchase to a no cost solution where a purchase power agreement is executed, there is truly something for everyone. In that light, a perfect example of schools showing vision exists in Hawaii.

Hawaii Pacific Solar has just obtained the Hawaii Department of Education's first solar power contract. The contract is a component of a two-year plan by the Hawaii Department of Energy to bring solar power to the state’s public schools.

“Utilizing renewable-energy sources to reduce the cost of school operations is a top priority for the D.O.E.,” said Randy Moore, assistant superintendent of the Office of School Facilities and Support Services.

Hawaii Pacific Solar will install solar panels free of charge at four high schools and an intermediate school on the island of Oahu. The company will sell the solar energy at a discount to the D.O.E. and, in turn, can claim tax credits.

The department initially will purchase power for about 20 cents per kilowatt hour, increasing to about 33 cents over 20 years. The projected cost savings in the first year are expected to range between $3,500 and $3,700 per school. Similar projects are planned for Kauai this year, followed by the Big Island, Maui and remaining schools on Oahu.

This is a perfect example of a bold vision, supported by a strong partner. For schools especially, where lack of capital is the most profound, a no cost power purchase agreement solution should be sought by every district - in every state.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Home Energy Use Perfect Problem to Solve for Students

Any electronics or electrical engineering student knows that OHM is a measurement of electrical resistance.  Add an "H" in front of it and in my off-beat way, begins to imply an unintended definition: the resistance of homeowners to change habits for improved energy efficiency.

Microsoft and Ford aim to prevent that definition from spreading.  Microsoft by focusing on home energy use and providing online tools to help manage that use efficiently.  Ford by inserting the electrically driven automobile into the equation, building on its SYNC technology.

Regular readers know my passion for making education relevant.  The HOHM project brings the exploration of how we use energy differently in the future into an environment to which most students can relate immediately: their HOME.

This is as much a call to action for the parents as it is the students: Open up your minds to new concepts. Involve your child in matters of the home.  Mechanical. Financial. Operational.  Each topic will expand their perspectives and will support the relevance of what they learn in school.

Operational, especially with respect to energy usage, is what Energication is all about.

Below is a quote from Microsoft Holm, describing their effort.


About Microsoft Holm:
Microsoft Hohm is a free online application that helps you save energy and money. With Hohm you can better understand your home energy usage, get recommendations to conserve energy and start saving. As with any recommendation product, Microsoft Hohm will provide increasingly more accurate and relevant suggestions for energy conservation as our users contribute home energy input and feedback. One of the objectives during our beta period is to refine our tool and further increase the value our product can offer to you.
Hohm uses advanced analytics licensed from Lawrence Berkeley Labs and the Department of Energy, to give you personalized energy saving recommendations. These recommendations are tailored based on your specific household circumstances including home attributes and use of appliances and systems. You will also be able to compare your energy usage with that of others in your area. In this beta version, the Microsoft Hohm team will learn from its users and communities and will make improvements to the site and analytics.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Renewable Energy as State Export Candidate

Through a macro-economic lens, renewable energy can be considered an export commodity. In the global economy in which we live today, the U.S. is always looking ways to exert reversal pressures on the never-ending trade imbalance. However, unless renewable energy-based electricity is used to create say, hydrogen, it isn't feasible to export to other countries. Instead, the argument could be made that creating a commodity (electricity) that can be sold to other states creates financial benefits more local in nature.

This is not meant to be a debate on "sending our electricity to out-of-staters" or any other such arguments. Rather, it is meant to be a glimpse into the opportunities that lie before every state and the competitive forces that (like it or not) exist between the states for a resource that can be "manufactured" and sold to other states.

It is no secret that California has the most challenging goals for the portion of power that is to be created from renewable energy by the year 2020 at 33%. Sure, their totals include hydroelectric-based generation, but the point is clear: they are aggressive. On Monday, Colorado's Governor Bill Ritter signed into law a bill calling for 30% of that state's power to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. Previously, Colorado's target was 20% by 2020. “Today we continue to chart a new course for Colorado’s New Energy Economy and America’s clean energy economy,” Ritter said in a statement. “Colorado is giving every state and the entire nation a template for tomorrow. This is a game-changer. We are transforming the future of Colorado and our country.”

Let the games begin!

Just as renewable energy is (for now) a small part of the U.S. energy picture, so is the competition between the states for how much of this commodity they are able to create, use and potentially export to other states. Bringing macro-economics closer to the micro: the more of a state commodity that can be exported, the more flow of revenue into the state that occurs. Nothing is wrong with this picture.

How do we get into the game? Education.

By providing our students with a comprehensive education including renewable energy, we are laying the groundwork for innovation and commercialization of a valuable commodity for the state. Studies show that when students must go out of state for their post-secondary education, we often loose them to other states or countries when they complete their education. By providing that educational opportunity locally, we are more apt to keep our students local - and keep the societal and financial benefits that come with that.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

E85 - Ethanol Needs Education

At the risk of getting into a debate on the moral aspects of Ethanol (using corn for fuel), it occurred to me that there is an ongoing lost opportunity to use less imported oil. Here's my rationale: E85 is a blend of up to 85% ethanol, with as little as only 15% gasoline.

We have an ever-growing number of vehicles on the road, but most of them use regular gasoline. My hypothesis: if the vehicles capable of burning E85 switched over, that population would use 85% LESS gasoline.

Let's explore that concept further and the role education plays in that equation.

There has been tremendous growth in the vehicle count on U.S. roads capable of burning E85.  Wikipedia states that the number was almost 5 million in 2005 and jumped to nearly 8 million in early 2009.

OK, you say, that accommodates the first part of my rationale - there are a growing number of E85-capable vehicles on our roads... so what?

The interesting part of this equation is that many people aren't aware they own an E85 vehicle.  On the same Wikipedia page, it cites a 2005 survey that found 68% of American flex-fuel car owners were not aware they owned one.  (Yes, I know the stat is dated, but the concept is sound - many people are oblivious.)

My point?

Think of the average child these days, much more aware of recycling that we ever were as kids.  Why? They are exposed to it, they have been taught the benefits, and they can relate to how changing a habit can make a significant environmental difference.

By integrating renewable energy education into our classrooms now, we will have a much more aware, educated, and engaged generation of drivers who will gravitate to the yellow E85 pumps when they are ready to drive. They will know the benefits and will be able to understand, through appropriate education, that changing a habit can make a significant environmental difference.

This is not the time to debate the "chicken or the egg?" issue on fueling infrastructure vs. critical mass of users.  But it is important to recognize one simple concept we learned in Econ 101: boosting demand for a commodity will entice other suppliers to enter the market. Improving exposure to renewable energy concepts in our schools will not overload a nascent E85 fueling infrastructure overnight.  However, it will boost demand over time and the numbers will speak for themselves.  Other suppliers and distributors will enter the market.

If we add "Education" to the "E" of E85, we do have a chance in regaining that lost opportunity to reduce our reliance on foreign oil - and reap all the financial and environmental impacts that ensues.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oil Bad on Many Fronts

It's no secret that oil is bad for the environment. It hurts it when exploration takes place. It hurts it when drilling takes place. It hurts it when it is refined. It hurts it when it is transported. Finally, it hurts it when it is burned. This doesn't take into account the Foreign Accounts imbalance from such a one-sided import. With this many strikes against it, we've nearly accounted for two outs in a single inning. Sure, the world society benefits from the commerce and mobility that comes with this "easy" and "relatively inexpensive" form of transportation, but I would argue the environmental costs outweigh them.

Now let's look at the socio-economic impacts to a country like the United States who imports most of its oil. We depend on countries whose political climates are at best, not much like ours and at worst, very unstable and dangerous. Then, add the sheer financial impacts of a current balance always in the negative by being a heavy net importer of oil and you have a financial model that can not and should not be sustained indefinitely.

There's a sound case for the negative impacts oil has as a commodity and the manipulation of its pricing that occurs in world trading markets. It can never be a stable condition when a commodity is needed by everyone and is provided by a few. Greed, power, control, and more come into play and causes unrealistic effects on pricing.

What's the true cost of a barrel of oil?
  • Environmental: Lots
  • Economic: Plenty
  • Investment: Too Much

So why expound on a topic that for most everyone who is reading this would be a "no-brainer?" To reinforce the value of a long-term investment in renewable energy education. We didn't get into this oil mess overnight. We won't get out of it by tomorrow, either. But with the forward-thinking concepts brought to bear with Energication, and with the great work that is already taking place in our schools to prepare our students to "change the world," we will indeed "change the world."


Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Chicken in Every Pot? How About Hydrogen Fueling in Every Home?

In this CNN interview, the future of automotive fuels can be seen.  Although BMW, as shown in the video, attempted to lead the world into clean, renewable energy for cars, the world simply wasn't ready for it.  With all good ideas, launched before their time, there is often some "catching up" to do.

The Hydrogen fueling equipment you will see in the video looks like a toy, but don't be mislead.  This technology is scalable to support transportation needs - and more.  Daimler's Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and many more are at the the nascent edge of having a viable Hydrogen strategy.  The title of this post is ironic, because this is the classic "chicken or the egg" example.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) are facing the same challenges: manufacturers aren't betting the house on the technology (yet) because the electrical refueling infrastructure is not in place.  Cities, states and federal government haven't proved the infrastructure because there isn't a critical mass of vehicles to use it.


Things are changing.  States are installing electrical charging stations.  Auto manufacturers are ready to deploy a plethora of alternative drive trains such as PHEV, ER-EV, BEV - and entire alphabet soup of options.  Some of those options already have concept vehicles designed with Hydrogen as the fuel source for the electricity used to power the vehicles.

When the chicken crosses the road, it had better start to look both ways for a car, electrically powered with Hydrogen.

Enjoy the video.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Media Validates Energication Principles

In Saturday's Oregonian, Anna Griffin provides a commentary on the importance of a state education strategy that includes renewable energy and in particular the potential that holds for the electric car being a part of it.  The spot-on argument is that how can we attract companies that, in this example, build electric cars or the equipment used to make them, if we are not training our students appropriately.  (The full story is available here.)

For the regular readers of Energication, you know this is nothing new to us.  However, there is a very encouraging signal built into this observation from the media.

While Griffin makes solid points throughout, there is one that resonates particularly strong with me.  Quoting Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen who said, "We have a small window of time over the next three to five years to become a leader.  It's what happened with biotech, except we were 20 years late in the game."  One could argue that Oregon may not YET be the leader in renewable energy technology, but one could also argue that we are already a contender.

While Energication has been observing the opportunities and potential that comes with making renewable energy a part of our students' curriculum, we have also been pulling newsworthy events together, looking at them through an educator's eyes, and hoping to open more eyes in the process.  Having the media send a message consistent with ours is, well, validating.  Energication would like to think that we reach the world with our message (we have had visitors from nine countries and 14 of our United States), but of course our reach is not anywhere near the Oregonian's nor

Is Energication pleased with the assistance in spreading the message?  Of course.

Is there still a long way to go to make our vision a reality?  Absolutely.

What else can we be doing?



Sunday, January 24, 2010

Watts On Schools

One of the encouraging elements of initiating renewable energy curriculum is its widespread availability.  Energication began with an early post showcasing what the federal government has created. However, electric utilities, working with their local communities, are beginning to be quite the repository of well-developed materials.

Enter Watts on Schools.

Watts on Schools is an effort by American Electric Power serving customers in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.  The web site brings together information about, and in support of, a number of solar energy systems at public elementary, middle, and high schools in their service areas.

On their site, they share an enormous collection of solar energy activities, grouped by educational level.  Here's a list:

Lower Elementary
Upper Elementary
Middle School
High School
Watts On Schools Activities

Regardless of the age group, teachers can begin to implement these concepts today.  This sort of collaborative sharing of materials helps everyone.

Energication will continue to find and share helpful resources and perspectives in hopes of furthering renewable energy education in our schools.



Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gresham Grows Energy Expertise

Gresham, Oregon is not unlike many other cities in their quest for new business. Many are seeking companies with scientific-based operations, some specifically related to renewable energy.

Germany based Centrosolar Group AG has announced plans to open its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Gresham. Although details on the plant's size, project timing or number of jobs isn't known quite yet, it spells good news for the future of our area.

The question of course for Energication is how we ensure a symbiotic relationship, benefiting Centrosolar for their decision, but what are the positive implications for our students?  In a number of Energication posts, I have discussed the growing momentum and focus on renewable energy in post-secondary education, specifically at the University or Oregon and Oregon State University.  Now, there's another link in the chain for our students.

Chicken or the Egg?

One school of thought is "industry won't locate here if we don't have a quality and appropriate educational experience to feed them with qualified workers."  Another is "why should we focus on a particular area of industry if none of it exists here?"

Small Steps Make a Difference

In the perspectives brought to bear in Energication, it shows that small steps are making a difference - and they become cumulative.  For example, the Portland region is becoming known for being the hub for renewable energy.  The governor is working hard to position the State of Oregon with a positive "solar climate."  Gresham has a mayor that "gets it."  Oregon and OSU are exploiting grants for renewable energy research facilities. Now, Centrosolar has announced it is coming to the area.

See the momentum?  How can we fuel it further?

Aligning our science and technology curriculum to not only acknowledge, but embrace renewable energy will help to establish the next "chicken or egg."  Companies are beginning to see the area as one of value.  Let's use that as a way to promote a more precise focus on the curriculum that will help our students prepare.  This isn't a commentary on preparing for college or the workforce.  No, it is a commentary on preparation.  Period.  Providing exposure to the kinds of things our students will experience in the future is the right strategy.  We don't know what the future will hold, but we must prepare them for the environment in which the future will unfold.  Refining our science curriculum to include alternative fuel technologies is an excellent first step.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Solar Research Center to Open at OSU

Last year, I described a grant made possible by Oregon BEST, benefitting Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. In completing that circle, it is exciting to know that OSU's solar energy research center is well under way.

Oregon State's Oregon Process Innovation Center for Sustainable Solar Cell Manufacturing has begun acquiring equipment and expects to be up and running in May. Oregon Best provided the initial investment through their grant to the tune of $232,000 and was instrumental in assisting with additional funding.

Of course this is wonderful for students in the State of Oregon.  This work continues to enhance the Oregon University System in ways that will help to keep our Renewable Energy students right here in the state. In a more unselfish tone, it also shows that students everywhere continue to see improving opportunities. This improving environment allows them to explore the wide range of existing and nascent technologies supporting Renewable Energy in their post-secondary education.

The OSU facility has the potential become an international leader in solar cell innovation and manufacturing. "We’re reaching the limits of what can be done through incremental improvements in traditional, silicon-based solar cell technology,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor of chemical engineering at OSU and associate director of the center. “We’re aiming for a revolution in solar cell processing and manufacturing that might drop costs by as much as 90 percent while being more environmentally sensitive.”

Consistent with the manner in which Gresham, Oregon's own Center for Advanced Learning has partnered with local businesses, Oregon State's facility with extend that even further with more than 20 faculty and researchers from OSU, the University of Oregon, Portland State University and the Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory.  They will not only allow, but foster collaboration with private industry, and provide unique student educational opportunities in some of the newest concepts in solar energy.

The center will work closely with some of the leaders in solar energy in Oregon and around the
world, said Chih-hung Chang, director of the center and the Sharp Laboratories Faculty
Scholar at OSU. Collaboration is planned with Oregon companies such as SolarWorld, Voxtel
and CH2M Hill, as well as leading universities in Germany, Taiwan and South Korea.

So what does this tell us in the K-12 world?  We're doing the right thing by promoting the teaching of Renewable Energy.  Sure, this just happens to be a solar example, but these kinds of "educational success stories" are taking place all across the energy spectrum.  Energication will continue to be the place to learn about them all.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Education Isn't Only For Students

When it comes to debunking myths about renewable energy, in this case specifically, electric and plug-in electric vehicles, it isn't only our students who need to be educated.  There is still a great misconception out there - in many circles - about this new science of renewable energy.

Plug In America is a non-profit group advocating the adoption of electric vehicles.  They have issued a report of 12 Plug-in Electric Vehicle Myths.  I'll just list them here as thought provokers.  Click on the link for the full report:
  1. MYTH: EVs don't have enough range. You'll be stranded when you run out of electricity
  2. MYTH: EVs are good for short city trips only
  3. MYTH: EVs just replace the tailpipe with a smokestack
  4. MYTH: The charging infrastructure must be built before people will adopt EVs
  5. MYTH: The grid will crash if millions of plug-ins charge at once
  6. MYTH: Battery chemicals are bad for the environment and can't be recycled
  7. MYTH: EVs take too long to charge
  8. MYTH: Plug-ins are too expensive for market penetration
  9. MYTH: Batteries will cost $15,000 to replace after only a few years
  10. MYTH: There isn't enough lithium in the world to make all the new batteries
  11. MYTH: Lithium batteries are dangerous and can explode
  12. MYTH: Most of us will still be driving gas cars through 2050
My point?  As we take steps to properly educate our students about renewable energy, about the technologies behind various modes of transportation, and the science supporting all aspects of the topic, they will encounter "adults" who just don't get it.

Sounds like teaching some patience may be in order as well.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Wind Energy Training Comes in Many Forms

One of the important lessons I learned as a School Board Member is the need to provide a varied set of offerings for students.  Our philosophy in the school district of "All Means All" was applied at many times, most specifically when considering student options.  We truly believed that all students can learn, just in different ways and at different times.  This drove the creation of a wide variety of educational paths.

On August 8, 2009, I wrote about the grants that had been awarded to the University of Oregon and Oregon State University by Oregon BEST (Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center.)  Through these grants, BEST helped to established labs and research centers for the study of many aspects of solar electric technology.

This is a great enhancement for each of these schools, but let's keep the "All Means All" concept in mind.  Not every student is destined for a four-year college or university.  Not every student in the field of renewable energy is interested in solar technologies.

Enter Northwest Renewable Energy Institute, located in Vancouver, Washington.  They are a division of the International Air and Hospitality Academy, a 30 year old academy that began as training for the travel and hospitality industry and have expanded their offerings through the years.  Seeing the need for wind energy technicians, they have again expanded their offerings.

In a recent news release, academy founder Arch Miller indicated the growth in wind power workers is expected to reach 450,000 from the current 85,000.  This is expected in support of the U.S. Department of Energy's goal of wind becoming 20% of the nation's energy source by 2030.  A pre-schooler today will be graduating high school around 2030.  What a perfect time to have renewable energy options in our schools.

If you combine a substantial expected demand for workers, with today's salaries ranging from $36,000 to $68,000 depending on education and experience, you can see this is not a bad path for our K-12 students.  In contrast to the UO and OSU environment of higher education, the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute has a different set of requirements: at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED.

All really does mean all.

This is not meant to be an endorsement of the academy.  I do not know about their program beyond the basics discussed here.  Instead, it is simply an example of the varied options available to our students in the field of renewable energy.  They truly have options.  However, it is our responsibility to prepare them to exercise those options when they are ready.

What other educational options have you seen?  If you are a K-12 teacher, how are you preparing your students to exercise their options?


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