Last week I had the pleasure of participating in Climate Ride California (www.climateride. org), a bike ride from nearby Fortuna to San Francisco over five days. Participants raise money for bicycle and climate advocacy organizations and enjoy beautiful scenery, camaraderie, and plenty of fresh air while pushing the pedals. Caeli Quinn, one of the organizers, recruited me for their after dinner speaker series and I got to ride my bike the first day to Richardson’s Grove State Park. I presented a talk about our renewable energy efforts in Humboldt County and SERC senior research engineer Greg Chapman drove our Toyota fuel cell vehicle down for riders to see and learn about. It was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable days I’ve experienced.
Although SERC’s three-year biomass gasification project is winding down, we are continuing to research biomass and its role as a renewable fuel. Our latest endeavour is torrefaction.
Torrefaction is a mild form of pyrolysis in which biomass is heated in an inert environment to a temperature between 200 and 300 °C. During the process, water and volatiles are removed and the hemicelluloses break down, yielding a dry, blackened solid product with a lower moisture content and higher energy content on a mass basis than the initial biomass.
The Schatz Lab has a long-standing relationship working with the Yurok Tribe on energy projects. Starting in 1999, we installed a fuel cell power system at School House Peak that powered their cell phone repeater station. Since then we have installed a residential off-grid solar electric system and conducted energy planning and needs assessment work.
Currently we are conducting a feasibility study to examine the potential for wind- and hydro-electric energy generation on the Reservation. We have been collecting stream flow data on Pecwan and Ke’Pel Creeks for about two years, as well as wind speed data on McKinnon Hill for the past year. We are now analyzing the data, determining the energy generation potential, estimating project costs and potential revenues, and conducting life-cycle economic assessments. The final results of this study are due early next year.
SERC’s Richard Engel recently spent half a year away from the lab, on a Fulbright-sponsored assignment in El Salvador. He assisted Universidad Don Bosco in renewable energy program development, designing and teaching a Spanish-language course, developing preliminary designs for two on-campus renewable energy projects, and helping UDB to create its own energy research facility.
Surprisingly, tiny El Salvador, just twice the size of Humboldt County but crowded with some six million inhabitants, is one of the world’s leading renewable energy users. Over 60% of its electricity comes from renewable sources, mainly hydropower, geothermal energy, and biomass used in sugar processing plants. The solar energy resource is also abundant, but has been little exploited to date for economic reasons.
LED lighting products, many of which are solar charged, are streaming into the African market and displacing incandescent flashlights and fuel-based lighting. They hold the promise to improve peoples’ lives and reduce global warming emissions that are associated with fuel-based lighting. Unfortunately, the quality of the products is highly variable; many of them fail in a matter of weeks or months and threaten to spoil the market for improved lighting systems. To help differentiate between better quality products and the rest, SERC worked with the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa Program over the last year to administer the Lighting Africa 2010 Outstanding Product Awards–the first awards program of its kind for off-grid lighting products in the African market. On May 18th, 2010, five products were given honors at the Lighting Africa 2010 Global Business Conference and Trade Fair in Nairobi, Kenya.