Geothermal Energy: A recession-proof resource?
While the natural heating and cooling from the earth’s core is the oldest source of energy in history, the use of geothermal energy has been experiencing significant global growth within recent years. According to a report by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), the overall growth was 20 percent from 2005 to 2010. Another 70 nations have geothermal projects currently in the works, which is a 52 percent growth over the last three years.
Geothermal energy is one of the best existing natural resources for energy. One of the many benefits to using geothermal heat for power is that there is little to no harmful impact on the environment. Geothermal emits less carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur and nitric oxide than other fossil fuel power sources. Since energy is developed from the earth, the supply is unlimited. Additionally, no power storage is required and geothermal is one of the cheapest forms of energy that exists.
GLOBAL GEOTHERMAL GROWTH
Despite the economic recession impacting the world in recent years, geothermal energy continues to grow. The Obama administration has recently announced plans to aggressively increase geothermal development in the U.S. “We have a choice. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy,” said President Obama. “We can hand over the jobs of the future to our competitors, or we can confront what they have already recognized as the great opportunity of our time: the nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.”
Energy Secretary Steven Chu added, "We have an ambitious agenda to put millions of people to work by investing in clean energy technology like solar and geothermal energy. These technologies represent two pieces of a broad energy portfolio that will help us aggressively fight climate change and renew our position as a global leader in clean energy jobs.”
In addition to geothermal expansion in the U.S., the potential to tap into the geothermal energy resource is huge worldwide. According to Karl Gawell, the executive director of GEA, “The colossal growth of the international market is only a small fraction of the geothermal power potential we could be utilizing. Even if we assume the lowest possible projections for geothermal potential, the vast majority of countries don’t fully use their geothermal resource. In 1999 we identified 39 nations that could provide 100% of their electrical needs from geothermal, fully powering their countries with a clean, renewable and domestic source, but only nine of them have geothermal power online. The development potential here is very obviously tremendous.”
Iceland is an excellent example of a country that utilizes geothermal energy, with five geothermal plants accounting for roughly 24 percent of the country’s power. In addition, 87 percent of all buildings in Iceland are heated from geothermal energy. Iceland is attempting to move toward being a 100 percent fossil-free nation.
Ormat Technologies, a U.S.-based company that operates over 520 MW in owned geothermal power plants, and over 1300 MW around the world, reported a first quarter 2010 total revenue of $82.7 million. Though this is a 6.5 percent decrease from total revenues from the first quarter of last year, the outcome for the remainder of the year looks positive. Dita Bronicki, Chief Executive Officer stated, "We continue to expect 2010 Electricity Segment revenues of $275 million to $285 million. We also expect an additional $9 million of revenues from our share of electricity revenue generated by a subsidiary, which is accounted for under the equity method. 2010 Product Segment revenues are expected to be between $75 million and $85 million."
Within the next two years the Germany-based companies Hörmann Energie und Umwelt and Geysir Europe are going to invest more than €70 million in a geothermal project. More than €8 million has been invested in the project so far, amongst others for the construction of the drill pad at the “Hofgut Breitenbach” near Gelting. Drilling will start in June 2010.
Africa is a prime location for generating geothermal energy. “For a long time, Kenya was dependent on hydro energy,” stated James Kiiru, Commercial Attaché, Embassy of the Republic of Kenya. “The challenge is if there is no rain, the supply can’t be guaranteed, so the government is looking into alternative sources of power.” Kenya was the first African country to really expand on its geothermal resources. With three plants, built by the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), further expansion at all locations are in the works. Kenya received a $293 million loan from Japan and a $94 billion loan from China for plant expansion.
Sakuu Corporation creates 3D printer for EV batteries
Sakuu Corporation has announced a new industrial-grade 3D printer for e-mobility batteries which it claims will unlock the mainstream adoption of electric vehicles.
Offering an industrial scale ‘local’ battery production capability, Sakuu believes the technology will provide increased manufacturer and consumer confidence. Sakuu’s Alpha Platform for its initial hardware offering will be available in Q4.
Backed by Japanese automotive parts supplier to major OEMs, Musashi Seimitsu, Sakuu is set to enable fast and high-volume production of 3D printed solid-state batteries (SSBs) that, compared with lithium-ion batteries, have the same capacity yet are half the size and almost a third lighter.
The company’s KeraCel-branded SSBs will also use around 30%-50% fewer materials – which can be sourced locally – to achieve the same energy levels as lithium-ion options, significantly reducing production costs. Sakuu anticipates the 3D printer’s attributes being easily transferable to a host of different applications in other industry sectors.
"For the e-mobility markets specifically, we believe this to be a landmark achievement, and one that could transform consumer adoption of electric vehicles,” said Robert Bagheri, Founder, CEO and chairman, Sakuu Corporation. “SSBs are a holy grail technology, but they are both very difficult and expensive to make. By harnessing the flexibility and efficiency-enhancing capabilities of our unique and scalable AM process, we’re enabling battery manufacturers and EV companies to overcome these fundamental pain points."
The ability to provide on-demand, localised production will create more efficient manufacturing operations and shorter supply chains, he added.
Sakuu will initially focus on the two-, three- and smaller four-wheel electric vehicle market for whom the company’s SSB proposition delivers an obvious and desirable combination of small form factor, low weight and improved capacity benefits. The agility of Sakuu’s AM process also means that customers can easily switch production to different battery types and sizes, as necessary, for example to achieve double the energy in the same space or the same energy in half the space.
Beyond energy storage, Sakuu’s development of print capability opens complex end device markets previously closed off to current 3D printing platforms. These include active components like sensors and electric motors for aerospace and automotive; power banks and heatsinks for consumer electronics; PH, temperature and pressure sensors within IoT; and pathogen detectors and microfluidic devices for medical, to name a few.
"As a cheaper, faster, local, customisable and more sustainable method of producing SSBs – which as a product deliver much higher performance attributes than currently available alternatives – the potential of our new platform offers tremendous opportunities to users within energy, as well as a multitude of other markets," said Bagheri.
Ongoing research and new funding collaborations
Omega Seiki, a part of Anglian Omega Group of companies, has partnered with New York-based company C4V to introduce SSBs for EVs and the renewable sector in India. As part of an MoU, the two companies are also looking at the manufacturing of SSBs in the country, according to reports.
Solid Power, which produces solid-state batteries for electric vehicles, recently announced a $130 million Series B investment round led by the BMW Group, Ford Motor Company and Volta Energy Technologies. Ford and the BMW Group have also expanded existing joint development agreements with Solid Power to secure all solid-state batteries for future EVs. Solid Power plans to begin producing automotive-scale batteries on the company's pilot production line in early 2022.
"Solid-state battery technology is important to the future of electric vehicles, and that's why we're investing directly," said Ted Miller, Ford's manager of Electrification Subsystems and Power Supply Research. "By simplifying the design of solid-state versus lithium-ion batteries, we'll be able to increase vehicle range, improve interior space and cargo volume, deliver lower costs and better value for customers and more efficiently integrate this kind of solid-state battery cell technology into existing lithium-ion cell production processes."
A subsidiary of Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest private company, Vinfast has signed an MoU with SSB manufacturer ProLogium - which picked up a bronze award at the recent Edison Awards - to accelerate commercialisation of batteries for EVs (click here).
Xin Li, Associate Professor of Materials Science, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is designing an SSB for ultra-high performance EV applications. The ultimate goal is to design a battery "that outperforms internal combustion engines so electrical vehicles accelerate the transition from fossil-fuel-based energy to renewable energy," according to The Harvard Gazette.
The dramatic increase in EV numbers means that the potential battery market is huge. McKinsey projects that by 2040 battery demand from EVs produced in Europe will reach a total of 1,200GWh per year, which is enough for 80 gigafactories with an average capacity of 15GWh per year.