There is an urgent need to organize for solar power & biofuels in India
...We need a comprehensive and integrated, silo-busting, problem-solving approach. This is in contrast with coasting along on a post-feudal-colonial mélange of currents and tides, with the brigandage of opportunistic politics fed by our (the voters’) greed for short-term benefits, resulting in our grotesque populism...
...Our leaders acknowledge repeatedly that infrastructure is India’s great need. Yet, they take no steps to marshal forces to draw up a credible strategy and execution plan. This is what needs doing...
...We have to “engineer” our way ahead, i.e., take active steps to build and develop our solutions, not passively wait for something good to happen...
Recent developments in renewable energy, e.g., cellulosic ethanol and concentrating solar power, underscore the urgency of pulling ourselves together on these fronts.
At the Detroit Auto Show in January, General Motors made a startling announcement: it had invested in a biofuel startup. This startup, Coskata, is one of uber-investor Vinod Khosla’s bets in renewable energy. Coskata claims it can produce ethanol from cellulosic sources at reasonable cost. The feedstock can be woodchips, grass, straw and agricultural waste from crops such as corn and wheat, even plastic and other carbon waste such as old tires. Coskata’s process needs much less water: less than the volume of ethanol, not three to four times as for other methods. Argonne National Laboratory reports that the process generates 7.7 times the energy used, and reduces CO2 emissions by over 80 per cent compared with petrol. However, this is in the laboratory, and Coskata has to prove it can scale up. This is planned by 2011, starting with a pilot plant this year.*
Coskata converts feedstock using heat into synthesis gas or syngas, comprising primarily carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. This gas is processed by proprietary microorganisms to create ethanol and water. In contrast, other bio-fermentation processes usually create a number of complex alcohols in addition to ethanol. Coskata’s microorganisms reportedly have greater tolerance to impurities in syngas than processes that use chemical conversion. The ethanol and water are separated using a membrane technology that is estimated to cost only half as much as processes such as distillation. Overall, Coskata achieves the highest conversion efficiencies for ethanol.
Solar Power — No Rain In Spain
Southern Spain is known for its sunshine and scarce rain. Capitalising on this “deficiency”, Spain is becoming the leader in the revival of Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), i.e., focusing heat from solar radiation to generate electricity, pioneered in California. In the 1970s, nine solar thermal plants were built at Kramer Junction in the Mojave Desert to produce 354 Mw, then forgotten in the rush for fossil fuels.
Outside Seville in Spain, 600 reflectors focus solar radiation to the top of a concrete tower 40 storeys high. This is Abengoa’s Solúcar project, which converts radiant energy into heat, driving steam turbines that generate about 10 Mw of electricity at an estimated cost equivalent to $50-70 a barrel. The capital costs are high but the fuel is free, and there are no noxious emissions. Photovoltaic generation costs nearly double CSP, but has the advantage of modularity: small units can be used for individual homes, while CSP needs large amounts of capital and land.**
Our leaders acknowledge repeatedly that infrastructure is India’s great need. Yet, they take no steps to marshal forces to draw up a credible strategy and execution plan. This is what needs doing. Only money won’t do, because delivery systems and processes have to be developed, i.e. planned, then built from scratch.