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Add another notch to Oregon’s growing wave power industry. The case for commercialized wave energy is enjoying another surge forward now that Columbia Power Technologies has officially deployed a prototype wave energy device and secured fresh funding from both private and government backers.

Just a few months ago we reported that the Corvallis, Oregon company appeared to be gaining ground in the effort to fund the next phase of its R&D. Now, their protoype device, called SeaRay, is floating in the Puget Sound and sending back performance data for analysis.

“The SeaRay is performing beyond our expectations and tracking well with modeling predictions,”said Reenst Lesemann, CEO of Columbia Power Technologies. “Our task is to demonstrate to utilities and independent power producers that we can help them deliver power predictably, reliably, and at a cost that is competitive. At this stage, we are making this happen in a very rapid and capital-efficient manner.”

According to Columbia Power Technologies, the SeaRay’s design allows it to extract up to twice the energy from ocean waves as other developing technologies. By employing what the company refers to as a “heave and surge” energy capture design, the SeaRay is able to reportedly tap the full energy potential from passing waves. Its design also looks to make it uniquely conditioned to survive a harsh battering about at sea.

Columbia Power Technologies indicated its longer term goal is “to deliver megawatt-scale devices, capable of operating in the widest range of temperate zone coastal load centers around the globe.” To do that, they’ll need funding and, it would seem, they now have it. Though details on how much funding they attained was not disclosed, Columbia Power Technologies did confirm that private backers were on board saying: “…the closing of Columbia Power’s recent private capital signifies excellent validation of the company’s vision and technical development capabilities.”

For those who wonder if there is money to be made from wave power for companies like Columbia, consider this: according to the start up “the world’s oceans are estimated to contain enough practically extractable energy to provide over 6,000 terawatt hours of electricity each year, which is enough to power over 600 million homes and is worth over $900 billion annually.” It looks like there might be gold in them there ocean waves after all.

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PETALUMA, Calif. — Solar panels have sprouted on countless rooftops, carports and fields in Northern California. Now, several start-up companies see potential for solar panels that float on water.

Already, 144 solar panels sit atop pontoons moored on a three-acre irrigation pond surrounded by vineyards in Petaluma in Sonoma County. Some 35 miles to the north, in the heart of the Napa Valley, another array of 994 solar panels covers the surface of a pond at the Far Niente Winery.

“Vineyard land in this part of the Napa Valley runs somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 an acre,” said Larry Maguire, Far Niente’s chief executive. “We wanted to go solar but we didn’t want to pull out vines.”

The company that installed the two arrays, SPG Solar of Novato, Calif., as well as Sunengy of Australia and Solaris Synergy of Israel, are among the companies trying to develop a market for solar panels on agricultural and mining ponds, hydroelectric reservoirs and canals. While it is a niche market, it is potentially a large one globally. The solar panel aqua farms have drawn interest from municipal water agencies, farmers and mining companies enticed by the prospect of finding a new use for — and new revenue from — their liquid assets, solar executives said.

Sunengy, for example, is courting markets in developing countries that are plagued by electricity shortages but have abundant water resources and intense sunshine, according to Philip Connor, the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

Chris Robine, SPG Solar’s chief executive, said he had heard from potential customers as far away as India, Australia and the Middle East. When your land is precious, he said, “There’s a great benefit in that you have clean power coming from solar, and it doesn’t take up resources for farming or mining.”

Sunengy, based in Sydney, said it had signed a deal with Tata Power, India’s largest private utility, to build a small pilot project on a hydroelectric reservoir near Mumbai. Solaris Synergy, meanwhile, said it planned to float a solar array on a reservoir in the south of France in a trial with the French utility EDF.

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About this talk

How can architects build a new world of sustainable beauty? By learning from nature. At TEDSalon in London, Michael Pawlyn describes three habits of nature that could transform architecture and society: radical resource efficiency, closed loops, and drawing energy from the sun.

About Michael Pawlyn

Michael Pawlyn takes cues from nature to make new, sustainable architectural environments. Full bio and more links

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Using oxygen as a cathode could give lithium batteries 10 times the energy.

With the launch of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, it’s been a big year for electric vehicles, but their batteries still have a fairly limited range without a recharge. For a car running on today’s lithium-ion batteries to match the range provided by a tank of gasoline, you’d need a lot more batteries, which would weigh down the car and take up too much space.

But what if you could take away one of the electrodes in a battery and replace it with air? Researchers estimate that a lithium-air battery could hold 5 to 10 times as much energy as a lithium-ion battery of the same weight and double the amount for the same volume. In theory, the energy density could be comparable to that of gasoline.

“No other battery has that kind of energy density, so far as we know,” says Ming Au, principal scientist at Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), in Aiken, S.C. Au was one of several scientists who reported new research into rechargeable lithium-air batteries during the fall meeting of the Materials Research Society, in Boston.

In such a battery, the anode is made of lithium. The cathode is oxygen, drawn from the surrounding air. As the lithium oxidizes, it releases energy. Pumping electricity into the device reverses the process, expelling the oxygen and leaving pure lithium.

“You can certainly make a lithium-air battery for one-time usage,” says Au. In fact, such lightweight batteries are commonly sold to power hearing aids. “But to make this battery rechargeable is difficult,” he says.

An oxygen cathode increases energy density but makes it hard to recharge.

Rechargeable lithium-air batteries face several challenges. For one, lithium reacts violently with water, so the battery’s electrolyte cannot contain any, and water vapor must be separated from incoming air. Turning the lithium oxide—the product of discharging the battery—back to lithium is difficult and only partially possible even when assisted by special catalysts: The oxide builds up and retards the process, limiting the number of charge-discharge cycles to a mere handful. Before lithium-air batteries can find use in hybrid and electric cars, they must be able to handle thousands of such cycles.

As for the time it takes to discharge and recharge the battery, “that process is very sluggish,” says Yang Shao-Horn, associate professor in the Electrochemical Energy Lab at MIT. But she recently reported that she could increase that round-trip efficiency to 77 percent by incorporating nanoparticles of gold and platinum into the cathode end. Gold speeds the combination of oxygen with lithium, and platinum catalyzes their separation.

The SRNL group, meanwhile, is in the midst of a two-year, US $1 million project on lithium-air batteries. So far, they’ve demonstrated a coin-size battery with a capacity of 600 milliampere-hours per gram of material. That’s a leap from traditional lithium-ion batteries, with capacities of 100 to 150 mAh/g. But lithium-ion batteries have about 1000 charge/discharge cycles, and Au’s device tops out at about 50.

It could be many years until a rechargeable lithium-air battery reaches the market. Au points out that lithium-ion batteries were first described in 1976 but weren’t for sale until 1997. “You have to have some big investment from the government or some corporation,” he says. And that hasn’t arrived yet.

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