Thursday, December 29, 2005

Australia: Alternative Energy Grants

Geothermal Plant

From geothermal power to better batteries, millions have been spent on alternative energy research grants in Australia, according to Rod Myer writing for The Age of Australia.

The AUD $23 million (approximately $17 million) spent by the Australian Federal Government under the first tranche of its $100 million (US $73m) pledge to aid the alternative energy sector has highlighted innovations by local companies to cure Australia's fossil fuel addiction.

Two companies awarded grants under the Renewable Energy Development Initiative (REDI) have developed a no-emissions alternative for base-load generation. Geodynamics received $5 million grant to help develop its geothermal electricity plant near Innamincka in the north of South Australia. Scope Energy, another betting its future on geothermal energy, received $3.9 million grant to aid development. Its principal, Roger Massey-Greene, says the grant will help finance a drilling program of 500-metre deep holes to prove up its resource. Scope plans to open a 50-megawatt plant, but Mr Massey-Greene says he hopes to see this expand to 1000 MW in the longer term.

Scope has a geographic advantage, he believes. Its site is near Millicent, in the south-east of South Australia, meaning it is close to transmission lines and the population centres of Melbourne and Adelaide. "We expect the cost to be very competitive with combined-cycle gas power plants," Mr Massey-Greene said.

Scope's geothermal technology will tap hot water heated deep in the earth and run it through a heat exchanger to generate electricity. Mr Massey-Greene likens this process to a "fridge operating in reverse".

Geodynamics' system will pump water through hot rocks and use the resulting steam to generate power. Scope's wells will be as deep as 4.5 kilometres. The technology that Scope is planning has been in use at a plant in Italy that has operated for 101 years, Mr Massey-Greene said.

Stage one of the plant is expected to cost $4 million per megawatt to construct, compared with about $750,000 for a combined-cycle gas plant. "But we have no fuel costs," Mr Massey-Greene said. Geothermal plants run at an output of about 98 per cent of rated capacity. Mr Massey-Green believes geothermal power has a great future. In New Zealand it provides 7 per cent of power needs and this could rise to as much as 15 per cent. Some in the market believe that Scope will float in the first half of 2006.

Melbourne-based Katrix will use its $811,000 Renewable Energy Development Initiative grant to further develop its new fluid expander that may enable solar energy to be harnessed for electricity. Founder Attilio Demichelli says the expander, which does the job of a turbine, will allow solar thermal energy to be adapted for small-scale use far more cheaply than photovoltaic systems.

Katrix is developing units in which solar energy will heat refrigeration fluid that will run through an expander linked to a generator to produce power. The expander is cheaper than a miniature turbine to build and has a number of advantages, including its ability to take gas or steam at 22 atmospheres (twenty two times atmospheric pressure) back to one atmosphere in one step.

Katrix projects that in the Californian market — once government solar energy grants are factored in — its system will return its cost to consumers in two to three years, compared with 15 years for photovoltaic systems. Mr Demichelli, a private investor, and inventor Yannis Tropalis have invested over $3 million in the technology in three years.

Another REDI grant, of $290,000, has gone to V-Fuel, which is developing a vanadium bromide redox battery. The funding will help develop a prototype of a battery that its promoters hope will be efficient enough to use to store power from renewable energy plants. Efficient storage would enable technologies such as wind power and solar energy to get over a bugbear — unpredictability, because no one knows when the sun will shine or the wind will blow.

V-Fuel principal Michael Kazacos says the grant is crucial to the company, which has raised only $400,000 up to now. V-Fuel has developed a five-kilowatt battery but is aiming to produce a 50-kilowatt prototype. That, he says, will cost $1 million, and further funding is being sought from another federal grant scheme.

"There is a lot of interest in Europe," Mr Kazacos said. "We have had offers of collaboration from there." The battery was 85 per cent efficient, he said, and "we are aiming at having a $200-per-kilowatt production cost". The vanadium bromide process was developed at the University of NSW by Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, who is a principal of V-Fuel.

according to Origin - Sliver Cells are "long, ultra thin, quite flexible & perfectly bifacial"

Origin Energy received a $5 million grant to aid development of its facilities for manufacturing solar energy cells using photovoltaic sliver technology. The technology aims to cut the cost of solar energy cells by reducing silicon usage by up to 90 per cent. Sliver cells are micromachined to less than 70 microns thick with solar cell efficiency running at over 19%. Silicon is the most expensive part of a solar energy cell. Origin Energy says it costs $11,000 to fit a house with a one-kilowatt unit. This would take 20 years or more to pay itself off. However, as energy prices rise and production costs fall, this payback time will be cut. Origin Energy also owns a 19% stake in Geodynamics and offers Green Earth electricity from 100% renewable sources to Australian electricity consumers. For more green energy in Australia see the government Green Power website.

Geothermal Energy: Hot Dry Rock

Article in The Age on Australian Alternative Energy Grants


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