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Solar energy ‘revolution’ brings green power closer

John Vidal, The Guardian,
Panels start solar power ‘revolution’

The holy grail of renewable energy came a step closer yesterday as thousands of mass-produced wafer-thin solar cells printed on aluminium film rolled off a production line in California, heralding what British scientists called “a revolution” in generating electricity.

The solar panels produced by a Silicon Valley start-up company, Nanosolar, are radically different from the kind that European consumers are increasingly buying to generate power from their own roofs. Printed like a newspaper directly on to aluminium foil, they are flexible, light and, if you believe the company, expected to make it as cheap to produce electricity from sunlight as from coal.
(29 December 2007)

New energy uses for asphalt

Arthur Max, Associated Press
If you’ve ever blistered your bare feet on a hot road you know that asphalt absorbs the sun’s energy. A Dutch company is now siphoning heat from roads and parking lots to heat homes and offices.

As climate change rises on the international agenda, the system built by the civil engineering firm, Ooms Avenhorn Holding BV, doesn’t look as wacky as it might have 10 years ago when first conceived.

Solar energy collected from a 200-yard stretch of road and a small parking lot helps heat a 70-unit four-story apartment…
(31 December 2007)
Contributor John writes:
It’s a shame they couldn’t engineer a way to incorporate this system under existing asphalt surfaces.

Shell, Biopetroleum to Build Algae Plant to Make Fuel

Eduard Gismatullin and Marianne Stigset, Bloomberg
Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s largest oil company, and HR Biopetroleum will build an algae- growing plant in Hawaii to produce vegetable oil for biofuels.

The two companies have set up a joint venture, Cellana, to develop the project and will start by constructing a pilot facility, Shell said today in a statement. The partners say algae will absorb carbon dioxide, a gas blamed for global warming.

Algae “can double their mass several times a day and produce at least 15 times more oil per hectare than alternatives such as rape, palm soya or jatropha,” Shell said. It “can be cultivated in ponds of seawater, minimizing the use of fertile land and fresh water.”
(11 December 2007)
Suggested by Cliff Wirth.

Europe’s Biodiesel Drive Sputters

John W. Miller, Wall Street Journal
The European Union’s dream of using vegetable-based diesel fuel in cars to cut oil imports and the pollution that causes global warming is turning sour.

The bloc made a big bet on biodiesel fuels in 2003, agreeing that its governments would phase in tax breaks and rules to encourage their production and use.

The bet seemed to make sense. Most Europeans drive diesel cars, making ethanol — the U.S. clean fuel of choice for gasoline-powered cars — impractical. Biodiesel can be mixed with regular diesel fuel and, when blended, doesn’t need any special pumps
or engine-design changes.

Mirroring the U.S. experience with ethanol, European companies rushed to make biodiesel out of a range of things, including rapeseed crops and used McDonald’s frying oil. Low raw-material costs and generous tax breaks meant margins were high. By last year, Europe’s annual capacity to make the fuel had climbed to 10 million metric tons from two million tons in 2003.

As with ethanol in the U.S., though, Europe now has a glut of biodiesel. The world consumed only nine million tons of biodiesel last year. Europe’s producers found buyers for just five million tons. The industry is in trouble, under pressure from soaring costs, disappearing tax breaks, less-costly imports and waning public support.
(27 December 2007)
To avoid the paywall, go through Google News.

Contributor Darel Preble writes:
Biodiesel prices are linked to oil prices.
EU biodiesel policy crashing; showing how tough it is to undercut oil prices with oil-based agriculture – fertilizer, transportation, etc, – technology

Burning biofuels may be worse than coal and oil, say experts

Alok Jha, The Guardian
Using biofuels made from corn, sugar cane and soy could have a greater environmental impact than burning fossil fuels, according to experts. Although the fuels themselves emit fewer greenhouse gases, they all have higher costs in terms of biodiversity loss and destruction of farmland.

… “Regardless of how effective sugar cane is for producing ethanol, its benefits quickly diminish if carbon-rich tropical forests are being razed to make the sugar cane fields, thereby causing vast greenhouse-gas emission increases,” Jörn Scharlemann and William Laurance, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, write in Science today.

“Such comparisons become even more lopsided if the full environmental benefits of tropical forests – for example, for biodiversity conservation, hydrological functioning, and soil protection – are included.”

Efforts to work out which crops are most environmentally friendly have, until now, focused only on the amount of greenhouse gases a fuel emits when it is burned. Scharlemann and Laurance highlighted a more comprehensive method, developed by Rainer Zah of the Empa Research Institute in Switzerland, that can take total environmental impacts – such as loss of forests and farmland and effects on biodiversity – into account.

In a study of 26 biofuels the Swiss method showed that 21 fuels reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 30% compared with gasoline when burned. But almost half of the biofuels, a total of 12, had greater total environmental impacts than fossil fuels.
(4 January 2008)