Category Archives: Alternative Energy

Algae – A viable source of Biofuel


Scientists around the world are experimenting with making cheaper alternative energies for our future, in a step further, a team of scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) has invented a new technology that will boost the research and production of algae-based bio-fuels.

The team’s invention —the environmental photobioreactor (ePBR system) — is the world’s first standard algae growing platform. The bioreactors are about the size of coffee makers and can induce changes in light, temperature, carbon dioxide, oxygen, evaporation, nutrient availability and more to simulates dynamic natural environments.

The ePBR system is like a pond in a jar that helps identify, cultivate, and test algal strains that have the potential to make the leap from lab to pond — proliferate in real-world, real-pond settings and produce the most oil.

Many scientists around the globe are looking for strains of algae that could become a sustainable source of alternative energy. Biggest problem they face is that algal strains that perform well in labs often down-perform in real environment.

Asia’s Largest Solar Power Plant in MP

The largest 130-MW Solar Power Plant of India Welspun Solar MP Project was launched at Bhagwanpur in Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh on 26 February 2014. It is also the Asia’s Largest Solar Power Plant.

The Welspun Solar MP project was constructed at a cost of 1100 crore rupees on 305 hectares of land. It will supply power at 8.05 rupees a kWh. This Project will raise Indian solar capacity by 7 percent.

Welspun Energy Ltd. (WEL) is the biggest developer of solar photovoltaic projects of India. The energy arm of Welspun Group is an independent power producer with plans to build grid connected 750MW of solar power & 1 GW of wind power plants across India.

Solar Power in India

The Union Government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) in 2010. India currently has a grid-connected solar-power capacity of 2208 MW. The JNNSM aimed for India to reach an installed capacity of 20000 MW (or 20 gigawatts) of solar power by 2022.

The production cost of solar power in India has fallen by more than half in recent years, from 17 rupees per kilowatt-hour (kWh) three years ago to 7.50 rupees per kWh now. But these costs are still high compared to coal (2.50 rupees per kWh), nuclear (3 rupees per kWh) or natural gas (5.5 rupees per kWh).

India is mapping its potential for solar-energy production across the entire country on the basis of satellite imagery, in collaboration with the United States.

Artificial Leaf for Hydrogen Fuel


Leaves harness the power of sunlight for photosynthesis, turning water into hydrogen and oxygen. Arizona State University scientists, along with colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory, have reported designing an artificial leaf that uses solar energy to convert water cheaply and efficiently into hydrogen and oxygen.

This process has two steps; the first step is fast one where light energy is converted to chemical energy, and the second step is slower one where the chemical energy is used to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The artificial leaf is not yet able to produce mass amounts of energy, but it is one step closer to producing sustainable and carbon-neutral fuels. This technology is important as it can sustainably harness the solar energy needed to meet the increasing demands of food, fuel and fiber.

Veteran chemist and head of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, C.N.R. Rao, who was recently conferred the Bharat Ratna, is also working on similar technology of artificial photosynthesis to produce hydrogen fuel.

Hydogen as Fuel

Society is constantly searching for cheap, efficient and economical sources of energy. Hydrogen is one of the most apparent and reliable of these sources. It is an eco-friendly fuel, which can be created by breaking water down. But producing the fuel currently is not viable, more energy is needed to produce it than it gives back.

It is used to propel spacecraft, and is a potential fuel source for combustion engines and other vehicles, including commercial aircraft. Although hydrogen is abundant in our atmosphere, it is so light that it rises and is rarely found in its pure form.

[The study was published in the journal Nature Chemistry.]

DRDO to harness Ocean Power

wind energy

Given the pressure on land and limited sources which can be tapped for generation of electricity, the ministry of earth sciences is now focusing its attention on oceans to meet growing power demand. It has started working on developing wind farms in ocean, which have a potential of power generation for 300 days in a year. Coastal areas of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are being studied for the purpose.

Shailesh Nayak, secretary, Union ministry of earth sciences, who was the chief guest for the ‘National workshop on renewable energy systems for mountainous regions’ in Chandigarh on Friday, informed about the new renewable sources of energy that were being tested. The workshop was jointly organized by the ministry of new and renewable energy and Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment, SASE – a wing of Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

The coasts of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have shown a high potential of more than 6m/sec wind velocity. This can sustain power for 300 days in a year. However, how much power in terms of wattage will be produced is yet to be worked upon.

[Credit- Times of India]

NRI Scientists convert Plastic into Petroleum Products


In a major breakthrough Indian-origin scientists based in US have successfully converted plastic shopping bags into diesel, natural gas and other petroleum products like naphtha (a solvent), gasoline, waxes and lubricating oils such as engine oil and hydraulic oil.

Brajendra Kumar Sharma, a senior research scientist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center led the research. He said it involved a process called pyrolysis which is essentially heating the bags in an oxygen-free chamber. One can get only 50 to 55% fuel from the distillation of petroleum crude oil but since this plastic is made from petroleum in the first place almost 80% fuel from it can recovered by pyrolysis.

Previous studies have used pyrolysis to convert plastic bags into crude oil. Sharma’s team took the research further by fractionating the crude oil into different petroleum products and testing the diesel fractions to see if they complied with national standards for ultra-low-sulfur diesel and biodiesel fuels. Results so far have been encouraging. Equivalent of US diesel it met all of the specifications required after addition of an antioxidant.

The Plastic-bag Menace

Plastic trash bags started appearing around the world by the late 1960s. North America and Western Europe account for nearly 80% percent of plastic bag use— though the bags are increasingly common in developing countries as well.

A quarter of the plastic bags used in wealthy nations are now produced in Asia. Each year Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags. Only 0.6% of this is recycled. The rest of the bags end up in landfills or escape to the wild, blowing across the landscape and entering waterways.

Plastic bags make up a sizeable portion of the plastic debris in giant ocean garbage patches that are killing wildlife and littering beaches. Plastic bags have been detected as far north and south as the poles.

[Credit – Times of India]

Generating Electricity from Magma


An accidental encounter of scientists in Iceland with molten lava has opened possibilities of harnessing under surface heat to produce power. A geothermal borehole project in Iceland a few years ago accidentally struck magma and its super-heated steam. This super-heated steam can be harnessed to produce electricity.

The Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) has been drilling shafts up to 5 km deep in an attempt to harness the heat in the volcanic bedrock far below the surface of Iceland. The plant is the first on the planet to use steam produced by molten rock or magma.

Iceland: A hub of Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy is harnessed by pumping cold water into hot dry rocks around 4 km below the surface. Iceland relies on geothermal power for two-third of its energy.

Currently 90% of homes in Iceland are heated by geothermal power which is both renewable and sustainable. Unlike solar power and wind, geothermal power has the potential to be harnessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This type of energy has been expensive and unreliable in other parts of the world, however.

Turning Plastic waste into Fuel


A team of researchers have developed a relatively low-temperature process to convert certain kinds of plastic waste into liquid fuel as a way to re-use discarded plastic bags and other products. The common plastic – low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is used to make many types of container, medical and laboratory equipment, computer components and plastic bags.

Chemist Achyut Kumar Panda of Centurion University of Technology and Management Odisha is working with chemical engineer Raghubansh Kumar Singh of the National Institute of Technology, Odisha, to develop a commercially viable technology for efficiently rendering LDPE into a liquid fuel.

In their approach, the team heats the plastic waste to between 400 and 500 degrees Celsius over a kaolin catalyst (a clay mineral). This causes the plastic’s long chain polymer chains to break apart in a process known as thermo-catalytic degradation. This releases large quantities of much smaller, 10 to 16 carbon atoms long molecules, mainly paraffins and olefins, which are chemically very similar to conventional petrochemical fuels.

The team optimised the reaction at 450 degrees Celsius with efficiency of 70 percent. Which means for every kilogram of waste plastic this process can produce 700 grams of liquid fuel. The by-products were combustible gases and wax.

The study has been published in the International Journal of Environment and Waste Management. If implemented on a large enough scale it can reduce pressures on landfill as well as ameliorating the effects of dwindling oil supplies in a world with increasing demands on petrochemicals for fuel.