Growing Interest in Biomass at SERC

Ranjit lights a Gasifier

Schatz Energy Fellow Ranjit Deshmukh fires up the GAS-11 gasifier during a four-day training at Ankur Scientific Energy Technologies in India. (Photo courtesy of Ranjit Deshmukh)

Readers of SERC Energy News may have noticed that our last issue featured two articles on the topic of biomass energy. SERC’s newfound interest in this energy resource is natural and perhaps overdue, considering that Humboldt County where we are based is California’s leading timber producing county. Travel north, south or east of Arcata and dense forests dominate the landscape for many miles. Could materials from these forests make a significant contribution to meeting our energy needs?

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New SERC Building

New SERC Building Architectural Drawing

A rendering of the new SERC building.

This fall, we’ve taken two critical initial steps toward building a new facility for SERC on the Humboldt State University campus. The construction money we’ll need has been set aside by our foundation and the preliminary engineering site work has been completed.

The new facility will be built on a picturesque hillside site just west of the new Behavioral and Social Sciences building and north of the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. The building will house laboratory space, a machine shop, faculty and staff offices, and a library/conference room in approximately 4,000 net square feet. It will replace our present home, which is severely space limited and located in a 60 year old building that has seen better days.

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Hydrogen Fueling Station Update

greg with canopy

Fueling Station Project Manager Greg Chapman in front of the newly installed hydrogen storage area canopy. (Photo credit SERC)

The excitement of having a hydrogen fueling station here at HSU is growing as the fueling station takes shape. We’ve accomplished a lot since the last fueling station update (SERC Energy News, Spring 2007). HSU Plant Operations staff have done a great job constructing the site infrastructure. Heavy-duty concrete foundations, block walls, steel bollards, and a security fence were built and will provide a secure site for the station’s equipment. In September, a crane was on site to position the high-pressure storage vessels and two metal canopies to shelter the equipment and personnel doing refueling.

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SERC to Assist Yurok Tribe with Wind and Hydro Study

Jenny and Austin taking stream measurements

SERC's Jenny Tracy (left) and Yurok Tribe's Austin Nova (right) taking stream measurements (Photo Credit Kellie Brown)

After working with the Yurok Tribe for the last few years on energy education and planning projects, we are excited to be conducting a detailed feasibility study that we hope will result in the installation of renewable energy hardware on the Yurok Reservation.

In a recently completed study for the Tribe (SERC Energy News, Fall 2006), SERC identified hydro and wind energy as two of the most promising renewable energy resources on the Reservation. SERC is now embarking on a new DOE-funded feasibility study to analyze opportunities for the development of these resources. Our study will equip the Tribe to move forward with project development if any of the project opportunities look favorable.

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Solar Photovoltaics and Energy Yield

Article written by Arne Jacobson and Stephen Kullmann

pv testing array

Energy Yield Test Array at Humboldt State University. The energy yield study involves detailed measurements of the performance of amorphous silicon and crystalline silicon PV modules. (Photo Credit Arne Jacobson)

Thin film solar photovoltaic (PV) modules are emerging as a lower cost alternative to the more conventional crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV modules. Amorphous silicon (a-Si) PV is the most mature of the thin film technologies and worldwide, a-Si modules make up approximately 15% of total solar PV sales. In some developing country markets, a-Si PV has become the dominant technology.

The growing use of amorphous silicon PV technology has led to a controversy about solar PV module performance ratings. The debate is related to the relative performance of c-Si and a-Si PV technologies. Manufacturers of a-Si modules claim that their products produce 10-15% more electrical energy per rated Watt of power output than c-Si technology. The reason for the variation, the theory goes, is related to the differential influence that real world weather conditions such as temperature have on the performance of the respective module types. With this in mind, a-Si PV manufacturers say that they should be allowed to adjust their power ratings to account for this extra energy production. Manufacturers of c-Si modules dispute this claim.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

As Richard Engel reports in this issue’s lead article, the Schatz Center is turning more attention to biomass energy. We’ve come to realize that biomass must play an important role in a renewable energy and carbon constrained future. And as Richard points out, it’s a natural for SERC, located as we are in the midst of the expansive forests of northern California.

The gasifier that Richard mentions and that we’ll be installing soon at our lab is part of a collaborative project with the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley. We’ll be working with the Indonesia Sugar Group to determine if they can use gasification of bagasse to increase their operating efficiency and sell carbon credits in the bargain. We’ll be running the gasifier over the next couple of years, determining optimum operating conditions and measuring gas output and efficiency.

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