In February, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced up to $11.3 million in funding for biomass-to-hydrocarbon biofuels under the name MEGA-BIO: Bioproducts to Enable Biofuels (DE-FOA-0001433). As the name implies, the key focus of the grant is to identify technology pathways that either produce an intermediate product that can be converted to chemicals or fuels, or a pathway that produces both chemicals and fuels simultaneously. In result, the addition of value-added chemicals will aid in lowering the overall production cost of today’s hydrocarbon biofuels and potentially achieve cost parity in a time when oil has consistently hovered around $40 per barrel and as the U.S. DOE strives to achieve $3 per gallon of gasoline equivalent (GGE) production costs for advanced biofuels by 2022. Continue reading
With the gloomy solar venture capital (VC) funding for startups, the combination of large corporations and academic and government research institutions will provide the impetus for innovation in the photovoltaic (PV) landscape. With evolutionary improvements in conventional module designs unlikely to reach the $1/W system price target even by 2030, there is certainly ample room to move, provided developers know where to look and where the highest potential lies. Many corporations are indeed active in this regard, with 940 active partnerships globally for PV research chasing the opportunity, with Hanwha, Solvay-Rhodia, and Dow Chemical leading in the number of academic partnerships for PV research, while IMEC, ECN, Georgia Tech, University of Delaware, and Arizona State University alone have cumulatively formed 132 partnerships with large corporations. With continued emphasis on developing new PV materials and processes, the mix of technologies in the market in 20 years from now will reflect these R&D investments. The question is, what will the mix of commercialized technologies be?
Given the existing infrastructure for x-Si module manufacturing, the technology is here to stay for the long haul. However today’s prices are most certainly below cost and evolutionary improvements in existing cell designs are not going to be enough to bring manufacturing costs down. Therefore disruptive cell designs such as front/back junction cells, silver-free metallization and epi-Si-based cells will enable lower costs without affecting module efficiencies. Materials and equipment suppliers should continue to target products for x-Si PV because it will maintain the lion’s share of the market for the foreseeable future.
Change is also inevitable beyond x-Si, with CZTS and tandem CIGS will be able to reach commercialization to take CIGS to the next level. However, given the process immaturity for SnS, the technology will not be commercially feasible even by 2030. The world of cadmium is not set for as much diversity, with flexible CdTe, or new materials such as CdS and PbS systems not ready for primetime even in 2030 because they will be far from reaching target module costs and efficiencies. For advanced III-V technologies, only planar III-V on Si tandem-cell-based modules and parallel III-V modules will reach commercial feasibility. Lastly, within the OPV and DSSC next-generation technologies, graphene-based OPV cells will not be commercially viable even by 2030, whereas QSS-DSSC and hybrid organic/inorganic will realize a small market share in that time.
There is little doubt that many companies were burned by the solar bubble, and many others are cautious about solar today even if they avoided the carnage. However, growth in solar is inevitable, consolidation and supply-demand equilibration is under way, and the technology roadmap lays out a path for innovation materials companies to enter and find opportunity.
Source: Lux Research report “Continuing Education: Going Back to School for Photovoltaic Innovation” — client registration required.
Droughts have plagued North America cutting corn output to a 16-year low, while monsoon rainfall has been 12% lighter in areas of India and even more in other regions. But in Brazil, even though excessive rains pushed harvesting back, the 2012 yield still rose to 571 million metric tons. Estimates peg next year’s crops as being bigger than ever, due to the same unusually rainy conditions. The harvest season ending in 2010 saw yields of 541 million, and in 2011 yields grew slightly, to 557 million metric tons. But next year’s yield is being forecast to be even larger – 5.4% larger – at 602 million metric tons.
Also in Brazil, Coca-Cola contracted JBF Industries to produce ethylene glycol in Araraquara, Sao Paulo, for partially bio-based PlantBottle PET. JBF will build a new plant starting at the end of 2012 and will produce 500,000 metric tons/year; it will take two years to complete.
But aside from the feedstock and materials developments, there’s money flowing, too, in Brazil. Brazilian national development bank, BNDES, and research-financing agency, Finep, have earmarked $988 million for bio-based chemicals and biofuels investment to be placed this year ($148 million), 2013 ($345 million), and 2014 ($493 million). They emphasize only “several projects” will be pursued. Dow Chemical, Braskem, and DuPont each passed the initial selection phase for their proposals to build projects collectively worth more than $1.5 billion. DSM has already been approved to receive funding for succinic acid from sugarcane. Previously, the two organizations contributed $493 million to research on cellulosic ethanol production, gasification, and other value-added derivatives of sugarcane.
For any that doubt, Brazil’s sugarcane continues to put it on the map of bio-based chemicals and biofuels production hotspots, although a recent conversation highlighted that, ironically, corn was less exposed to food price increases than sugarcane, since sugarcane prices track with sugar, a commodity more tightly linked to food price trends than corn, which is largely used for feed and ethanol. Brazilian government support for sugarcane production and downstream conversion activities is strong, and the Brazilian bio-chemical industry has a reputation for translating technology into commercial successes well. Whether it be to keep tabs on a formidable competitor or to understand the landscape in Brazil to explore forming a valuable partnership to secure feedstock or to access sugarcane-derived material, clients are advised to monitor Brazil’s sugarcane harvest and consider it when making decisions about feedstock supply. Though this year’s droughts are not expected to repeat next year, contingency plans for less likely – and even more unlikely events – are advised, as volatility in weather yields volatility in crop yields.
Sustainable architectural coatings technologies offer a lower impact on energy, natural resources, and/or the environment. Yet they often get confused with “greenwashed” unsustainable alternatives. This week’s graphic comes from Lux Research’s latest Sustainable Building Materials report (Client registration required) that, among other things, provides a modified Lux Innovation Grid to assess which emerging coating technologies are best positioned to combine sustainability and end-user value into a winning market reception. We survey some of the candidate technologies here.
First-generation low-VOC technologies – like waterborne acrylics and polyurethanes – have gone mainstream. But challenges remaining around gloss retention, durability, and processability have driven development of new technologies, such as waterborne alkyd coatings from Reichhold Coatings and waterborne epoxies from Cytec Industries. More established low-VOC technologies, such as 100% solid content powder coatings, have also received a shot in the arm with the development of polyurea coatings, whose tunable rheological properties make them more processable.
Cool roofs could become a future winner, thanks to thermally responsive optical coatings. Elastomeric cool-roof coatings are commercially available and produced at scale, landing them a spot among current winners even though their application remains limited to hot climates. However, their thermally responsive cousins, such as those from Creative Material Technologies and Thermeleon, turn from “white” to “black,” potentially expanding the geographic footprint of cool roofs.
Several new technologies enabling solar cell coatings to effectively be sprayed on buildings offer attractive processability and yield. But the 2% conversion efficiency of these solar paints is very low relative to conventional solar panels (13% to 15%), suggesting such coatings will remain a curiosity.
Coatings that enhance durability such, as those based on Bayhydrol polyols and isccynates from Bayer, provide a tangible benefit to the end user while the increased product life translates into reduced resource consumption. Self-healing coatings offer similar promise. But only a handful of start-ups, including Autonomic Materials, are pursuing the technology.
“Reduce, reuse, and recycle” technologies help minimize a coating’s environmental impact and its overall cost to end users, earning such technologies a spot in the Win-Win Quadrant. Examples include coatings with enhanced hiding power such as EVOQUE and ROPAQUE from Dow Chemical and Celcor from Arkema. Both reduce material consumption by as much as 20%.
Source: Lux Research report “Painting a Green Future: Opportunities in Sustainable Architectural Coatings.”
The Department of Energy (DOE) announced this week that two government labs, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), will partner with Dow Chemical to develop higher-performing cool-roof technologies (client registration required). The main objectives of the partnership are to develop white elastomeric roof coatings (ERCs) that are more resistant to microbial growth and dirt accumulation, thereby preserving their reflective properties for a longer duration. The program also aims to raise current cool-roof standards for low-slope commercial roofs. Current standards dictate the material’s solar reflectance must be at least 55% three years after installation, but the new standards would raise reflectance requirements to 75% after five years. In certain building types, especially single-story facilities with large roof areas relative to floor areas, this could increase the air conditioning energy savings attributable to a cool roof from 15% to 25%.
Ideal materials for a cool roof are characterized by a high solar reflectance (r) in both the visible and infrared spectrum, and high infrared emittance (e) meaning whatever heat they do absorb, they effectively radiate. It is hard to beat the performance of a white-washed roof on a Mediterranean villa (r = 0.8, e = 0.9). But that hasn’t stopped materials suppliers such as Dow Chemical and Owens Corning, or roofing companies such as CertainTeed and GAF from exploring higher-tech solutions that achieve high thermal performance, deliver increased durability and microbial resistance, look aesthetically pleasing, and of course earn money in the process.
It is well known that cool roofs are one of the most cost-efficient strategies for increasing building energy efficiency in hot climates, such as the southern states and California. Not surprisingly, the DOE labs have been researching the space since the 1980s. What is new, and is acting as a market pull for building materials manufacturers like Dow Chemical, is the variety of federal, state, and utility-level programs encouraging – and in the case of California, mandating – cool roof adoption. California is a bellwether for the space. In 2005, its Title 24 building energy-efficiency standards mandated a three-year aged reflectivity value of r = 0.55 for most low-sloped roofs. Since the start of 2010, it has further required r = 0.20 for the steep-sloped roofs typical of residential homes. This rather modest target for steep-sloped roofs is indicative of the predominance of asphalt shingles, which are favored for their relatively low cost and darker shades. Asphalt shingles for residential cool roofs typically incorporate reflective granules that reflect the infrared parts of the spectrum while looking dark in the visible parts. Clients with materials capabilities should note that there is a huge scope for performance improvements in the (hot-climate) residential steep-roof shingle market by incorporating white (or light-colored) materials. However, such innovations will need to tackle weathering issues, such as streaking and discoloration (which is a major goal of the DOE / Dow Chemical partnership), as well as consumer preferences. Cool roofs are just one part of the building thermal envelope, which is a critical determinant of the thermal and energy performance of a building, and we will tackle the emerging technologies and market in this space in our Q2 2011 Green Buildings state of the market report.