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Technologies for Stationary Energy (electricity generation)


In this section:

In comparing ways of generating electricity, there are several considerations:

  • Cost per unit generated

This is a combination of the ongoing cost of operating the plant, the "opportunity cost" of the land dedicated to it, the capital cost of building it in the first place, and the transmission costs and losses. 

The construction cost has to be amortised over the expected lifetime output.  This involves several assumptions, so different authors arrive at different conclusions.  This matters a lot where almost all the cost is capital expenditure, such as wind and solar.  Of course, construction cost is not a problem for existing coal-fired power stations, but new coal-fired power stations are planned too, so comparisons made here are with new coal.

A standard measure is "levelised cost".  This amortizes the capital cost over the lifetime of the plant, adds a percentage p.a. return expected by investors (the "discount rate") and the production cost (fuel and maintenance) to give a cost per unit of electricity.  The result therefore depends on the rate of return required.  Extreme examples are solar and gas.  Gas has a very high fuel cost while solar (both PV and thermal) have very high construction costs.  Wind is or is not competitive with gas within the usual range of values assumed.

For a simplified calculation, suppose solar PV is down to $1/W to install.   If each 1W installed generates an average of 3Wh a day, it provides 1kWh in about a year.  If lifetime amortised cost plus interest amounts to 10% pa, it's producing at 10c/kWh.

[Some argue that the construction cost for renewables shouldn't matter: if it avoids emissions then it's worth it.  But construction might be expensive precisely because that uses a lot of energy, and that's being costed at today's prices.  It could even happen that a "renewable" technology plant would cost more energy to make than it will deliver in its entire life.]

Where the technology is not yet mature, equipment costs can be expected to come down as the technology spreads.  This is why government investment is necessary to achieve a rapid transition.  Private sector investment focuses on the short term.

May 2011: Costs coming down even faster than expected

Transmission cost can be high because the source of energy is often a long way from the cities.  Coal-fired power has the advantage here that distribution already exists in coal mining areas, and other industries have grown up around them.

Where a technology has high pollution cost, this should be factored in too.  This too often ends up being borne by the taxpayer.  Consider, e.g., the medical expenses of miners.  In 2009 the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering estimated $40-50/MWh on top of the wholesale price of $40MWh (including climate change).  In the US, the NRC estimates $US32/MWh excluding climate change.  More evidence of the health consequences of fossil fuels continues to emerge.

April 2011: Particles disrupt immune system

March 2012: Call for more independent testing in coal regions

In NSW, the coal industry also receives about $1bn./year in direct and indirect subsidies.

Such indirect costs have not been included in the comparisons below.

Dec 2010: Georgia Inst of Tech & Duke Uni; Supporting renewables now will reduce power costs in 2030:

I.e., can it guarantee to meet a predicted demand?  At one extreme, wind and solar PV are intermittent; at the other, hydro can be used to store energy from other sources (by pumping water back up).  In between, an energy source may be reliable but inflexible, - i.e. it's most efficient if you run it at constant output - or reliable and flexible ("dispatchable") but with no ability to absorb and store energy from other sources.  This issue would be solved by large, cheap, efficient  batteries, but there is no prospect of that any time soon.

In the grid, cheap unreliable energy sources can be mixed with flexible sources and storage to give the best overall system.

There is also an important distinction between intermittent and unpredictable. Unpredictability is what really hurts grids.  If supply can be predicted even fifteen minutes in advance then the grid is much more manageable.  Increasingly, wind and solar can be predicted hours in advance.  Conversely, conventional large coal plant can fail with little warning.

Dec 2013How flexible + variable can replace baseload + peaking

Mar 2014: US grid could be 30% solar+wind with no reliability concern

  • Environment

Any technology can have negative impacts on the environment, even if it is just aesthetic.  Some may have much reduced GHG output, but not zero. 

Any technology which involves heat needs a way to get rid of the heat.  The most efficient is to use water, but that may be scarce, so air must sometimes be used instead.

  • Scale and centralisation

Some technologies are only practical as large centralised plant, while others can be built at any scale.  Small scale has the advantage that it can be added to as needed, instead of having to guess the demand for decades in advance, and can be spread around the grid, reducing distribution losses.

(Reduced distribution loss is a key justification for a feed-in tariff, whereby suburban households may be paid a higher rate for electricity they feed into the grid than they pay for what they draw from the grid.)

  • Timeliness
I.e., how quickly can capacity be expanded?  Given the urgency of climate change, we cannot wait 30 years for the ideal solution.
  • Long term viability

Fossil fuels, and that includes nuclear, are by definition a finite resource.  To provide the whole world's electricity at current demand from known reserves and current technology, coal might last 200 years, nuclear 20, gas 100.  (It's hard to be exact because progressively more expensive sources can be pressed into service.)  There could easily be 10 times the known reserves of uranium, so nuclear could stretch to 200 years, longer if thorium is also used.  Fourth generation nuclear fission could last for thousands of years, and nuclear fusion for millions.

But as they say, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stones.


Studies demonstrating the feasibility of 100% renewables:



July 2012: Virtual plant aggregates intermittent sources to improve reliability

Jan 2013: Global Atlas of renewable energy potential

Mar 2013: Stanford: how NY could be 100% renewable energy by 2030

Aug 2013: US NREL compares land area requirements


In this section

Solar Thermal with storage
Solar PV
Combined Heat and Power
Carbon Capture + Storage ("Clean coal")
Carbon Capture with Algae
Conventional Coal
Heat-based Generation
Energy Storage

Dec 2012: Highs, lows and prospects for solar in Australia

Six important facts about renewable energy

Dr Renewables' treasure trove of information

 Mar 2014: Where Oz power comes from and how great the emissions - CER

Mar 2014: Novel idea: energy from Earth's nocturnal IR emissions


Electricity from wind has been around for 120 years, with commercial generation since 1941.  Current costs go as low as 6 to 7 cents/kWh for the most suitable sites, making it about the same as new coal-fired, and can be expected to fall a little as the technology evolves.  Its main disadvantage is unpredictability, but mixed with other technologies could provide 20% of Australia's needs.

A looming technology is high-altitude windpower, which it's claimed would provide electricity at 2 to 5 cents/kWh.

At the low end, domestic wind turbines don't get enough wind, but other technologies might harness low wind speeds more effectively:

In September 2009, the Danish think tank CEPOS released a report critical of Denmark's commitments to windpower.  Two main conclusions have been widely quoted by groups sceptical of renewable energy: (1) That most of Denmark's wind power is exported to other "Nord Pool" countries (hence, it would not be practical for those other countries to adopt the same level of windpower); and (2) that the cost of subsidising the windpower was responsible for Denmark's very high electricity prices.

Other researchers have found major errors in the CEPOS report.  E.g. shows both of these charges to be without foundation.


June 2010: Turbine noise no health threat

Oct 2010: Offshore wind more beneficial than offshore oil

Nov 2010: Minimising harm to bats:

Dec 2010:

North Seas Countries sign Memorandum of Understanding on joint grid:

Airborne windfarms considered:

Windfarms help crops nearby:

Adaptive aderodynamics to improve turbine efficiency:

Jan 2011: Study on optimal windfarm layout; Johns Hopkins:

Feb 2011: Torque vectoring gears simplify grid feed-in; Tech Uni Munich:

March 2011: New insight into bird collisions; Birmigham Uni:

March 2011: Wind may be too limited a resource; Max Planck Institute: ... April 2011: but read the blog comments by cphoenix at

March 2011: Manufacturers plan 7MW and 10MW turbines:

May 2011: Global Warming won't diminish wind resource; Indiana Uni:

May 2011: Genetic algorithm to optimise turbine placement; Uni of Adelaide:

May 2011: Does noise from offshore turbines harm fish?  Uni of Maryland:

May 2011: Kite power to reach higher altitude winds

June 2011: Project to reduce turbine noise; Uni of Adelaide:

June 2011: Eddies harnessed for low-power application:

June 2011: Trend towards larger turbines

July 2011: Turbine placement can make a tenfold difference in output; Caltech:

Aug 2011: Counter-rotating vertical-axis turbines feed off each other; Caltech:

Aug 2011: Blades of Polyurethane and Carbon nanotubes; Case Western Reserve:

Sep 2011: "Wind lens" triples power for same size; Kyushu Uni:

Sep 2011:  Wind at 10m height increasing in Australia; CSIRO:

Oct 2011: Analysis of Australian anti-wind lobby:

Oct 2011:  Extendable blades would adapt to conditions:

Dec 2011: Jetstream winds not such a great resource as thought; Max Planck Institute:

Dec 2011: Matthew Wright interview & phone in on MTR

Feb 2012: Half of turbines off Texan shore would be downed by hurricanes in 20 years

May 2012: $24/MWh LCOE claimed for 'gyroplane' turbine flying at 4km

June 2012: 14 myths about wind farms

June 2012: For wind turbines, bigger means greener

June 2012: Offshore wind peaks in the evening, complementing solar

July 2012: Lower cost wind augmentation

July 2012: Design advances have raised typical capacity factor from 30% to 50%

July 2012: Vertical axis turbines have advantages for offshore

Aug 2012: Guyed turbines cheaper for offshore

Sep 2012: Advances in Vertical Axis Turbines

Oct 2012: Portable 50kW turbine

Oct 2012: Siemens tests 154m rotor

Nov 2012: Adelaide team to study generation of low frequency noise in turbines

Dec 2012: Successful test flight of airborne wind power

Dec 2012: Taming tornado power

Jan 2013: UK finds turbines wearing out sooner than expected

Jan 2013: EU project to develop superconducting generators

Jan 2013: 80-100m blades to be developed for offshore 8-10MW turbines 

Jan 2013: Fe-based superconducting wires 

Feb 2013: Networking turbines for smooth, predictable power

Feb 2013: Have wind farm capacities been overestimated?

Feb 2013: 13m waves can snap offshore turbines

Mar 2013: Oz wind farm output matching demand

Apr 2013: GE's "brilliant" turbine gets 15% more output

Apr 2013: Large scale onshore wind farms may be limited to 1W/m2 available power

Apr 2013: NHMRC rejects the Sarah Laurie syndrome

June 2013: Only 0.1% fossil fuel back-up needed for UK wind

June 2013: GE adds to its Brilliant range

July 2013: "Auralisation" tool lets you hear what a wind farm will sound like

Aug 2013: Supercomputer to help plan wind farms

Aug 2013: Spare wind power makes ammonia for fertiliser

Aug 2013: No complaints in Alberta

Aug 2013: Wind farms don't dent property values in US

Aug 2013: North Sea wind farm gets 320kV 800MW HVDC converter

Oct 2013: Advanced software boosts output 5%

Nov 2013: Smarter spacing boosts offshore wind output by a third.

Nov 2013: US turbines killed over 600,000 bats in 2012

Nov 2013US wind farm fined for eagle deaths ... but coal and nuclear kill more birds per kWh

Nov 2013: Floating turbines may be cheaper than seafloor-mounted

Dec 2013: Off-shore turbines could protect against cyclones

Dec 2013: Raft of innovations in off-shore turbines

Jan 2014: US NREL finds wind farms increase grid stability

Jan 2014: 8MW prototype enters test

Feb 2014:

$2m fund to raise hub heights to 120m, adding 1800GW potential in US

Wind turbines outliving gas turbines

Large off-shore arrays could slow hurricanes, quell storm surges

SA wind farms near 50% capacity factor

Vestas'  140m tower for low wind sites

April 2014:

GE claims 50% capacity factor, 98% availability

Solar Thermal (preferably with storage)

This concentrates the sun's rays to heat molten salts to 500oC.  As needed, this is then used to generate steam to drive a turbine.  Adequate salt storage and diverse sites in the grid make it suitable not just as baseload but as a flexible source to be mixed with unpredictable sources such as wind.

There are two main versions: parabolic trough and power tower.  Parabolic troughs have been expensive to construct.  A new aluminium design helps, but still probably more expensive than power tower.

Current generation cost is around 15 cents/kWh, but is expected to fall to the same or less than (new) coal.

See also Heat-based Generation

June 2010: EU Sees Solar Power Imported From Sahara In 5 Years:

Nov 2010: Economically competitive within a decade; Boston Consulting Group

Jan 2011: Sahara project combines CST with reafforestation, desalination and biofuel:

May 2011: Summary of CST state of play:

May 2011: eSolar video on high-precision tracking

July 2011: Spain's Gemasolar is first 24 x 7 plant in production

Nov 2011: Californian contracts revised to add molten salt storage

Jan 2012: Novel materials could be cheaper than molten salts

Jan 2012: Sunflower seedhead layout cuts land area 20%

Apr 2012: Molten glass could handle 700oC, reach 50% efficiency

Sep 2012: Modular system developed

Nov 2012: Concrete thermocline for much cheaper heat storage

Nov 2012: Nanoparticles make solar steam engine

Dec 2012: 120MW Israeli plant to come online in 2017

Mar 2013: Ivanpah (377MW, no storage) achieves "first flux"

Mar 2013: Another 2 x 250MW power towers for California

Apr 2013: 500MW Calif project shelved over environmental concerns

Apr 2013: Tonopah, Nevada, nears completion

July 2013: Adding storage gains ground to compete with cheaper PV

July 2013: 'Perfect' mirrors could boost output of concentrating solar technologies

Sep 2013: 377MW Ivanpah comes online

Oct 2013: Solana, AZ: Parabolic trough with 6 hours' storage at only $7/W

Oct 2013: Gemasolar celebrates 2 years' operation with 36 day run of full power

Nov 2013: US solar thermal to reach 1GW soon

Dec 2013: New project blocked after Ivanpah bird deaths

Jan 2014: 110MW power tower with 17.5 hours storage for Chile

Feb 2014: Study finds optimal storage between 6 and 9 hours [Depends on context, surely? - Ed]

Feb 2014Crescent Dunes (Nevada, 110MW, 10 hours salt storage, $7/W) starts commissioning

Feb 2014: Ivanpah (California, 392MW, no storage, $5.6/W) officially operational



Solar Photovoltaic (PV)

This turns light directly into electricity, avoiding the inefficiencies of a heat stage and the need for water as a coolant.  That also makes it viable for domestic scale generation.  There is a range of technologies with widely differing costs, efficiencies, and applications.  The fall in price of some has been dramatic across decades.

Concentrated PV (CPV) uses mirrors to concentrate the sunlight onto a relatively small area of very efficient, and expensive, solar cells.

Feb 2010:

Silicon Wire Arrays; Caltech:

March 2010:

Plant protein; Tel Aviv:

Algal electrons; Stanford:

April 2010:

CoS cathode, organic redox electrolyte; Quebec:

Graphene; Indiana:

Nanowires; summary:

PbS; PennState:

Continuous flow thin film; Oregon:

May 2010:

Purple Bacteria; Miami:

Printable plastic strip cells; CSIRO:

Plastic fibre cells; Wake Forest:

Multilayer fabrication of thin film GaAs; University of Illinois:

June 2010:

Grätzel cells take Millennium Prize; Lausanne:ätzel

Quantum dots could double PV efficiency; University of Texas:

Longer life unsealed plastic solar cell; University of Alberta and the National Institute for Nanotechnology:

Ultrathin cells save on silicon; Transform Solar:

August 2010:

Photon enhanced thermionic emission (PETE) uses both heat and light; Stanford:

Embedding Selenium in Zinc Oxide increases capture; Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Ca.:

Nickel can replace gold in colloidal quantum dot solar cell contacts; University of Toronto:

Self-assembled monolayer helps charge dissociation in conjugated polymers; University of Cambridge:

Chlorophyll in stromatolites captures infrared; University of Sydney:

September 2010:

Carbon nanotubes concentrate solar energy; MIT:

Detergent renews solar cells; MIT:

Solar cells as continuous flexible sheets; Binghamton University:

Artifical leaf; NCSU:

Ultra-thin solar cells cheaper, more efficient; Stanford:

October 2010:

Quantum dots give 2 electrons per photon; University of Wyoming:

nanocrystals of copper indium diselenide in sprayable ink; University of Texas:

"excitons" can travel far further in organic solar cells than thought; Rutgers:

November 2010:

Sahara Solar Breeder Project: Sun and sand make silicon and power; Japanese/Algerian initiative:

December 2010:

Capturing infrared too doubles power and even works at night; US DoE, National Lab, Idaho Falls:

January 2011:

Carbon nanotubes repair degraded dyes; Purdue Uni:

Orienting panels to target peak load; UC San Diego:

Antireflective coating improves light capture; Nagaoka University of Technology:

Bloomberg recommends PV for domestic power in Persian Gulf:

February 2011:

World annual growth of PV doubled to 16GW in 2010:

Organic layer can triple output of quantum dot solar cells; Stanford:

March 2011:

Amorphous Si deposition could be 10 times faster;  Tech Uni Delft:

Quantum dots boost cell efficiency; Colorado School of Mines:

April 2011:

Combined polymer PV and solar heating reaches 30% efficiency; Wake Forest Uni:

Graphite nanoparticles boost solar heat transfer 10%; Arizona State Uni:

Thin film gold electrode for organic cells; Warwick Uni:

Quantum coaxial cables realised; Xiamen Uni, China:

Magnetic effect could lead to radical alternative to existing solar cells; Uni of Michigan:

Woven polymer cheaper electrode than indium tin oxide in thin-film cells:

Viruses help assemble efficient solar cell; MIT:

May 2011:

ZnO honeycomb allows thicker amorphous silicon layer; Czech Academy of Sciences:

Record efficiency of 18.7 % for flexible CIGS solar cells on plastics

GE sees PV cheaper than coal and nuclear in 3 to 5 years

June 2011:

Mirrors reduce silicon needed; Japanese start-up:

Inverters reach 99% efficiency:

GaAs cell sets new record at 28.2% efficiency:

July 2011:

Cheap plastic solar cells in 5-10 years; Sheffield & Cambridge Unis

Aug 2011

Falling prices of panels lead to switch from solar thermal to PV

Sep 2011:

Cu2S coats CdS nanowires for solar cells; Berkeley Labs:

Linked nanoparticles allow electron flow in quantum dot cells; TU Delft:

Copper nanowire coating for solar cells (and touch screens); Duke Uni:

Carbon nanotubes replace indium for flexible cells; Northwestern Uni:

Oct 2011:

Record voltage achieved for organic cells; Warwick Uni:

Plasmons boost efficiency 30%; ANU:

Optical Cavity Furnace could quarter production cost; US DoE:

Nov 2011:

Trapezoidal grating traps greater range of wavelengths; Northwestern Uni:

Nano-antennas cheaper and more efficient than semiconductors; Tel Aviv University:

Orbiting solar plant feasible; NASA:

Fool's Gold variant for cheap solar cells; Uni of Oregon:

Dec 2011

PV in space, beamed to Earth by laser; International Academy of Astronautics:

QUT study: distributed solar+battery beats more poles and wires 

Jan 2012:

PV on greenhouses turns excess sunlight into power:

First Solar sets new record of 14.4% efficiency for CdTe panels

CPV, Concentrated photovoltaic, still contending:

Embedded quantum dots let solar cells capture infrared too; SUNY:

Feb 2012:

Hybrid cell gets 2 electrons per photon, promises 44% efficiency; Cambridge Uni:

Tandem polymer cells reach 10.6%; UCLA:

Israeli start-up floats solar farm, literally;

Solar windows reach 170cm x 170cm:

March 2012:

Coating cuts reflection from 40% to 1%:

SunTech reaches 20.3% efficiency:

UK company targets domestic PV for African villages:

Cheap mirrors to concentrate onto large scale PV at $1/W fully installed:

3D cells may double efficiency of static arrays:

Plastic films still in the running:

SunPower's Maxeon cell claimed 24% efficient:

UK team targets 35c/W for thin film PV on windows:

April 2012

Kyocera to launch integrated domestic PV with battery storage in Japan, summer 2012:

Carbon nanotubes replace platinum in dye-sensitized solar cells; Rice Uni

Harnessing red photon pairs boosts cell to 40% efficient; Sydney Uni

Panels over canal make rural power, cut evaporation

Princeton group mimics leaf surface to boost plastic cell output 47%

May 2012

Zinc lowers cost of dye-sensitized cells

Fraunhofer Institute software eases PV farm planning

Monitoring by satellite gives real-time PV output prediction for grid managers

Fl-Cs-Sn-I combo for solid-state dye-sensitized cell, cheap and 10% efficient

Graphene cells reach 8.6% efficient, triple previous record

RMIT: Niobia boosts dye-sensitized cells by 30%

June 2012

5 myths about solar PV

GaN nanowires take the strain out of III-nitride cells

Advanced Maths study finds application in amorphous cells

All-carbon cells harness infrared

Domestic tracking system with storage to be available in Germany in Sept

July 2012

Double-sided panels can boost efficiency 50%

New heat-and-power ('PVT') technology from Canada

Cheaper substitutes for silver in metal layer

Field-effect screening (SFPV) allows cheaper semiconductors to be used

Texas alone has potential for 20,000GW solar

Quantum dot cells reach new record of 7% efficiency

Aug 2012

Current installation costs across Australia

Mirror and ball system doubles power output

Sep 2012:

Spinach protein boosts biohybrid cell efficiency

Roving robot can adjust and care for 200 mirrors

Suntech, Hanwha team with UNSW to develop anodised Al contacts

Oct 2012:

"Black" Silicon reaches 18% efficiency, how black can it get?

Quantum dot cells generate extra electrons per photon

Nov 2012:

GaAs layer to boost efficiency for Si type III-V from 30%  to 38%

Stanford develops first all-carbon solar cell

Si cells reach 33.5% efficient

Side-illuminated concentrated solar cells

$60/MWh claimed for Concentrated PV (CPV)

Nanofunnels to collect broader range of wavelengths

German data shows PV prices still dropping persistently at 20% p.a.

Dec 2012:

Cheaper GaAs-based production of organic thin film cells promises $0.45c/W

Metal-plastic nanostructure nearly triples efficiency of organic cell

Insight into fullerenes' success opens door for cheaper alternatives

Peel-and-stick cells

"Balcony" mounted plug&play systems in Germany

Jan 2013:

InP nanowire cell reaches 13.8% efficiency

Concentrated PV reaches 44% efficiency and 950 'suns'

CIGS thin-film beats 20% efficiency

Organic cells can have impurities, so long as they're in smaller patches

Quality check built into production line to save billions

PV+EV is 30 times more efficient use of land than bioethanol

Surface passivisation of black Silicon

Genetic algorithm optimises scattering geometry for organic cells

Cool way to make Si crystals

Vapour deposition could cut wafer fab cost in half

8c/kWh claimed for 'spin cell' technology

Feb 2013:

28% efficiency claimed for cheap holographic silicon

BC8 silicon can generate two electrons per photon

Microbeads use less silicon per cell

Oz trial for new hybrid PV/thermal technology

'Rectenna' cell theoretically up to 70% efficient

Thin film achieves 10.7% and could be as cheap as a roof tile

Cheaper way to passivate silicon's surface

Self-assembling quantum dots in nanowires

Shell offshoot predicts halved thin film costs by 2017

3D metamaterial waveguide captures colours at different depths

GeS crystal sheets-on-a-line nanostructure

CdTe thin film achieves 18.7% efficiency

Mar 2013

Project to provide 36 hour forecast of insolation in each 15 minutes

Dual junction cells reach 30.8% efficiency

Nanowire raises theoretical limit of efficiency

Apr 2013

How PV technologies now compare with their potentials

Indian institute proposes solar roof over highways

Black Si reaches 18.7% efficiency

Australian Bearded Dragon pigments shed light on organic dyes

Silver nanoparticles save on silicon

LCOE of 10c/kWh claimed for CPV/thermal parabolic dish

May 2013

579MW plant for California

Metal wrap-through Si hits 18% (poly)-20% (mono) efficiency

UNSW breakthrough makes solar cells cheaper and more efficient

Dye-based cells reach 11.3%

Plasmonic PSCs reach 8.9%

Thin film printing reaches A3 format at CSIRO

Enhanced panels cope with shading and hot spots

June 2013

Perovskite cells reach 15.4% efficiency ahead of expectation

Concentrating triple junction cell reaches 44.4% efficiency

Dual junction cell reaches 31.1% efficiency

250MW plant in Spain for $1.60/W unsubsidised(!)

July 2013

40c/W module cost claimed for thin film CdTe

Dye-sensitised cells reach 15% efficiency

Ionic liquid electrolytes benefit solar cells and batteries  

CPV manufacturer aims for 50% efficiency by 2015

August 2013

Plasmonic nanostructured metals are the new black

Multicrystalline cell reaches 18.3% efficiency

Copper doping boosts thin film CdTe from 8% to 11.5% efficiency

Mimicking plants' vascular systems for self-healing solar cells

Robot tilts 1200 solar panels, one at a time

Concentrated PV module reaches 35.9% efficiency

Disposal cost of some cells may be significant

September 2013

Spray-on Zn3P2 nanoparticles make cheap thin film

Quasi-liquid electrolyte advances dye-sensitised cells

Concentrated PV stackable to 70,000 suns

Oz company develops plasma vapour deposition

Commercial CPV reaches 31.8% efficient

Reflectors help capture a bit more sun

Multi-junction cell reaches 44.7% efficiency

Monocrystalline reaches 20.26% efficient

October 2013

Easily made thin-film reaches 15.5%

Researchers learn how Perovskite captures solar energy

Multicrystalline (c-Si) cells expected to dominate 2014 market

Thin film cells may leach cadmium after disposal

Quasi-random crystals trap broad band of photon frequencies

November 2013

FirstSolar tipping CdTe production costs below 50c/W

Polyimide film plus NaF, KF, lowers CIGS thin film costs

Copper electrodes cut costs for Si PV

High energy photons split to let solar cells capture them

50c/W claimed for concentrated PV array

Nanotextured surface cuts reflection, aids self-cleaning

Which way to face the panels.. N, NW, W?

Dec 2013

Laser doping makes 'black silicon' much more cheaply

 CPV costs down 25% in a year to $4/W

Cheap CZTS cells reach 12.6% efficient

Jan 2014

Perovskite/graphene/titanium reaches 15.6% efficiency

CuInSe thin film utilises blue end of spectrum

Feb 2014

Cheap thin-film "flextrodes" edge closer

Cone-based Fresnel lens for concentrated PV

Recycling rare metals in production process cuts cost of CIGS

Thin film cracks 20% efficiency threshold

Mar 2014

Now Black Silicon passes 20% level

ANU's Back Contact cell reaches 24.4%!

Atomically thin WSe2 diode 

CdTe reaches 17% efficient, targets next gen utility scale plant

2018 market tipped at 100GW

Continuous flow production cuts thin film costs

April 2014

PV + biofuel dryland farm to optimise water use

CIS thin film at 20.9%

Coating cuts  reflected glare

Other References

Mar 2013: PV installation training videos

Nov 2011: Podcasts by American Chemical Society 


"Conventional" geothermal energy relies on volcanic activity.  This is used in NZ.  It generates electricity for about 2-4 cents/KWh, significantly cheaper than coal.

Australia's geothermal resource consists of hot rocks deep underground.  The heat comes from gradual radioactive decay in granite, so is constantly renewed (but the temperature will drop if heat is extracted quickly).  An Enhanced Geothermal System, or EGS (previously known as Hot Fractured Rock, or HFR), involves injecting water into these rocks.  The water is recycled, but other water may be used as coolant.  The total potential is many times Australia's demand, though some sites are much cheaper to exploit than others.  This is the only renewable source which is inherently available 24x7.  Other technologies require some kind of storage.

The key cost is the initial drilling; the hot rocks are deeper than most mines.  Estimates of potential capacity and long-term cost vary.  The Australian Geothermal Energy Association says 8-11 cents/kWh, with current policies leading to only 8% of total electricity demand by 2020.  Geodynamics reckons 4-6 cents.

There is a worry that the injection of water may trigger earthquakes.  In principle, this may only be bringing on earthquakes that would have happened one day in any event, but it remains at least a legal issue.  This may rule out some sites.

There may be some amount of GHGs and other undesirable gases released from underground in the process.

A recent idea is to avoid drilling so deeply by choosing a place where there is a good insulating layer near the surface.  It turns out that brown coal deposits are favorite!

See also Heat-based Generation


Oct 2010: West Virginia hotspot

May 2011: New technique avoids fracking

June 2011: CO2 more efficient than water; Uni of Minnesota:

July 2011: At last, some good news for geothermal prospects in Australia:

Nov 2011: Geothermal planned to support remote WA mines

May 2012: 25MW Utah plant will take US total to 72MW

May 2012: Geothermal as back-up for solar PV

Aug 2012: US could develop 100GW of enhanced geothermal in 50 years

Dec 2012: Laser drilling proposed

Jan 2013: Naples looks to Mt Vesuvius

Jan 2013: Artificial reservoirs could cut costs 50%

Apr 2013: 1MWe Habanero, SA, plant commissioned

Aug 2013: Geelong geothermal in doubt after ARENA funding denied

Sep 2013: $88.8m written off Cooper Basin asset

Oct 2013: Vic govt pulls out of Geelong project

Oct 2013: Innamincka trial declared successful


Biomass may be existing crop waste or purpose grown.

If crop waste, the energy density is low, and the main cost is gathering it from a broad area.  Traditionally, this has led to small scale combustion, which in turn results in incomplete burning and smogs (which have a powerful greenhouse effect). A better option is pelletisation, reducing the cost of transporting to a centralised furnace and allowing it to be stockpiled.

If purpose grown, collection is still something of an issue, plus it may displace food crops.

Either way, it is unlikely to provide more than about 10% of world demand ever.  It can provide a useful backup heat source for solar thermal.


Jan 2011: Improved roasting method of production; Uni of Leeds:

May 2011: By-products of whisky distillation power homes:

Apr 2012Forestry biomass will make matters worse

July 2012: Microbial fuel cell generates electricity from organic waste

Feb 2014: Cool biomass to electricity with solar catalyst

See also Biofuel


The designs for collecting wave power are more varied than for any other energy source.  Several years of experiments are needed to select the best.  

Current installations are achieving 15-20 cents/kWh, but this is expected to fall to 5-7 cents.  Some estimates claim as low as 2-3 cents!

In Australia, there may be limited sites producing reliable energy and close to urban centres.  Even so, it has been claimed that it could supply 35% of Australia's current demand.

August 2010: Wave energy hotspots around Australia

April 2011: New device captures energy from all six movements

July 2011: German utility pulls out of world's largest wave energy scheme in Scotland

Aug 2011: Yet more designs for harvesting wave power, but still 3 times cost of wind

July 2012: Wave prediction can double power harvested

Aug 2013: Japanese wind & wave hybrid

Apr 2014: Oceanlinx misses deadline, files for bankruptcy



Current installations are achieving 10-12 cents/kWh, but this is expected to fall to 4-6 cents.  Given the high capital cost, it may surprise that the unit cost is expected to drop so.  This may be because the land used is not considered of commercial value.

The necessary landscaping impacts wildlife and may cause GHG emissions as with hydro.

In Australia, there are few suitable sites.


European Marine Energy Centre

September 2010:

March 2011: Estuaries could generate electricity from fresh/salt boundary; Stanford:

Apr 2012: ... a study of its potential: 

July 2012: First commercial tidal plant in US

Oct 2012: UK Tidal potential put at 153GW

Jan 2013: Severn Barrage proposal claimed cheaper than wind

Aug 2013: Underwater carbon fibre kite to harness low speed flow


Hydro comes in two flavours: single or double reservoir.  Double reservoir (a.k.a pumped hydro) can draw power from the grid when demand is low to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper one.

There may be significant GHG emissions from the reservoir.  According to the World Commission on Dams report, where the reservoir is large compared to the generating capacity (less than 100 W/m2 of surface area) and no clearing of the forests in the area was undertaken, greenhouse gas emissions from the reservoir may be higher than those of a conventional oil-fired thermal generation plant.

The best sites produce very cheap electricity (about half the price of coal), but Australia already exploits most viable sites.


Oct 2010: Cost-effective design for small scale hydro; Technische Universität München:

Aug 2012: Varying dam levels generate significant methane emissions

Natural Gas (CCGT, OCGT)

CCGT stands for Combined Cycle Gas Turbine.  This is the most efficient gas-based power generation to date.  It is suitable for baseload generation, so competes with coal-fired and nuclear.

OCGT is Open Cycle.  This is less efficient but can provide 'peaking' power, needed to cover peaks in demand over supply.  That makes its competitors pumped hydro, CST+ (solar thermal with storage) and geothermal.

While natural gas combustion has only 50-60% of the CO2 emissions per unit of energy as coal, it is a more expensive fuel.  There are also significant question marks over the total GHG footprint, since methane leaks are inevitable.

Until recently, the known reserves would only power humanity for 50 years at current demand.  Vast new fields have been discovered.  It is hard to judge whether this is good news or bad.  On the one hand, it creates a relatively easy way to reduce emissions significantly over the next five to ten years.  On the other, building the new gas-fired power stations diverts efforts from renewables, locking us into continuing emissions for an extra ten to twenty years.

See also Heat-based Generation

Jan 2011: IEA doubles estimate of reserves

April 2011: Methane emissions from fracking shale for gas worse than coal over 20 years; Cornell Uni:

May 2011: Fracking can damage your health:

May 2011: Methane levels 17 times higher in water wells near hydrofracking sites

May 2011: Is it the drilling, the fracking, or the extraction that's the problem?

May 2011: Bush era EPA official calls for fresh scrutiny

July 2011: Rapid response gas turbine could help renewables on grid

Aug 2011: Informative article on coal seam gas and fracking

Sep 2011: Switching to CSG from coal: no benefit for 40 years

Jan 2012: Fracking risks exaggerated, say BGS geologists

Feb 2012: Fracking of shale didn't contaminate groudwater; Canadian report:

Aug 2012: Improved catalyst for burning methane

Mar 2014: More earthquakes from fracking


 Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

CHP systems replace conventional heating systems (water, space heating), usually in large establishments such as hospitals and factories.  Rather than merely turn the power source, be it coal, gas or oil, into the desired heat, it uses some of that heat to generate electricity, just as in a fossil-fuel power station.  This is very efficient because nothing is wasted; unlike a power station, the heat left over is useful.  (See Heat-based Generation.)

The efficiency gain is possible because the temperature required for the hot water or hot air is much lower than the combustion temperature of the fuel.  For example, if you were to generate 10 units of heat, but turn 4 of them into electricity, you could then use that electricity to drive a heat pump, bringing in maybe 20 units of heat from the outside air.  So the net heating you achieve is 26 units instead of 10.

A new development (SOFC) replaces the combustion and power generation units with a gas or oil fuel cell.

November 2010: Technical Univ of Denmark; SOFC for Domestic MicroCHP

Sep 2013: Advance in waste heat recovery to boost efficiency 5-10%

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS, or "Clean coal/gas")

In addition to the CO2 produced in combustion, some CO2 and other undesirable gases are released during mining.  Capture reduces the carbon footprint 80-90%.  The captured CO2 is stored in geological formations. 

Despite the billions invested in trials, it shows no sign of being competitive with the best renewables, whether applied to new coal plant or retrofitted to existing plant.

One interesting idea is to supplement the coal feedstock with, say, 15% biofuel.  Then it is only necessary to capture 85% of the CO2 produced in order for the process as a whole to have zero net emissions.

Even if the storage is safe for a thousand years, would we be leaving posterity a legacy they'd prefer to be without?  The rationale is that the CO2 doesn't just sit there.  Over time, it is absorbed into and reacts with the minerals, rendering it quite stable (until millennia later it reaches the tectonic plate boundary and is subducted).  How long this takes depends on the chemistry of the formation.

An appropriate market-based test of viability would centre on the insurance: is it still commercial if having to fund adequate insurance on the open market against all future leaks and other untoward consequences?  Goverment-enacted liability caps will constitute a subsidy of unknown value, and send a clear signal that the technology is not to be trusted.

See also Heat-based Generation

April 2010: Report says it cannot work.

May 2010: Tim Flannery withdraws support

June 2010: Iceland could capture the CO2 chemically in rock

July 2010: Trap the CO2 in bacteria

Sep 2010: Poor prospects in Europe

Dec 2010: Stanford researcher doubts stability of underground storage

Feb 2011: Farmer says CO2 injected under his land as part of oil extraction is leaking.

Mar 2011: Pressure build-up not an issue in suitable formations

June 2011: Nano-foam could seal leaks

July 2011American Electric Power cans $600m CCS project

Oct 2011: UK Longannet project collapes, Vedsted project blocked by Swedish parliament, German Brandenburg project in doubt; but three going ahead in US

Nov 2011: Million tonne CCS trial starts in Illinois

Nov 2011: The Economist's online debate

Dec 2011: $2bn pilot project blocked in Germany

Dec 2011: Warrnambool test claimed a success

Jan 2012: Cheap polymer efficient at CO2 capture

Mar 2012: Ionic liquids adapted to large scale capture

Mar 2012: CSIRO finds large scale capture can catch 90%, burning 40% more fuel

Apr 2012: Still no serious prospect, yet politicians remain starry eyed

May 2012: Norway opens $1b carbon capture test facility

May 2012: Ceramic membrane removes N2 before combustion, making CO2 easier to isolate

May 2012: Lawrence Livermore: Zinc catalyst for capture efficient and robust

June 2012: Metal organic honeycomb, a new class of porous material

June 2012: US National Research Council warns of risk of 'quakes

July 2012: US study finds toxins leaching down from mountaintop mining

Aug 2012: Oxy-fuel test in Queensland

Dec 2012: EU CCS contest finds no winner

Jan 2013: Welsh pilot plant captures first tonne

Feb 2013: Nickel nanoparticle catalyst (as used by sea urchins)  but where is the calcium to come from? - ed.

Feb 2013: Light sensitive metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) capture/release CO2

Feb 2013: Rust catalyst makes exhaust pure CO2, aiding capture

Feb 2013: Alberta cancels funds for CO2-to-fuel project

Apr 2013: Hopes fade for Illinois project

July 2013: Success claimed for CSIRO pilot using amines - challenge is to make it economic

Aug 2013: Uni of Newcastle scheme sequesters CO2 in pavers

Sep 2013: Study finds CCS uneconomical compared with renewables

Sep 2013: Gas field to become CO2 store

Sep 2013: Norway scraps CCS plans

Oct 2013: Breakthrough claimed for two new coal-fired CCS plant

Oct 2013: 80% cost overrun at Mississippi plant hits ratepayers

Dec 2013: Fracking magnesium-rich rocks to store CO2

Jan 2014: CO2 sequestration while boosting geothermal output

Jan 2014Cost overruns continue at Mississippi plant

Feb 2014: Mississippi utility says CCS a long way from ready

Feb 2014World first gas with CCS announced in UK

Mar 2014: Pilot plant for SW WA



One fossil fuel power station option is to capture carbon organically, using algae say, which can then be used as biofuel or cattle cake. 

There are effectively two carbon cycles on earth: on a decades scale it cycles between air, ocean, soil, and biota.  Over millennia, it can be bound into minerals as rocks weather and as organic matter becomes buried instead of decaying, and released later by tectonics.  Our key problem is that burning coal and oil, and manufacturing cement, rapidly move carbon back to the short cycle.  Capturing it in algae does not take it back out of the short cycle unless you then bury it.  And if you do that, you may as well run the power station on the algae and leave the coal in the ground.

So algal capture is hardly a solution.  If used as cattle cake it may reemerge as methane, and that could be worse than not having captured it at all.

Of course, if the algae were to capture CO2 directly from the air and not depend on a power station then that would be excellent, but there's no suggestion that would be viable.

See also Biofuels.

November 2010: Baking Soda Boosts Algal Oil Production; Montana SU:

March 2011:  Protein converts fatty acids to ketones; Uni of Minnesota:

April 2011: Doubt cast on potential of biofuel from algae; Kansas State Uni:

May 2011: Toxin pumps boost production; US DoE:

May 2011:

June 2011: Still far too expensive:

June 2013: Algal biofuel demo plant planned for Whyalla

 Conventional Coal

It is essential that we stop using this ASAP.  Coal has been storing excess carbon safely for millions of years.  Once we release it into circulation it will be hard to take it back out.  The other environmental and health costs of mining and burning coal, borne by the taxpayer, are huge.

See also Heat-based Generation

Feb 2011: Taxpayers bear 2/3 of real cost of coal; US study:

May 2011:  Lung damage pathway from carbon nanoparticles identified:

Oct 2011:  Yale economists put real cost coal at 2 to six times market price:

Nov 2011Yale economists find coal costliest power source

Aug 2013: Coalmine approvals should consider cumulative impact



While no GHGs are emitted during operation of the generator, there is a large footprint from the vast quantities of concrete needed for construction of the plant, plus the ongoing impact of mining and transporting the ore.

Current nuclear power station production technology generates large quantities of radioactive waste that must be stored for centuries, some for millennia.  At the same time, anticipated reserves would only meet the world's energy demand for 200 years.

The true cost of nuclear power remains an open question.   Every nuclear-powered country on the planet caps the liability; what does that amount to as a subsidy?  France keeps the details secret. Germany's cap is much larger than most, and the only European one that doesn't equate to exoneration.  The US has the Price-Anderson Act.  In 1992, their Energy Information Administration valued the effective subsidy to the nuclear power industry as a whole at US$3.05 billion annually.

Fast breeder reactors, still only experimental, could reuse existing waste, produce much less waste in future, employ sources other than uranium, and so extend the resource to thousands of years.  A key obstacle is that material could be diverted for weapons.

For military-political reasons, thorium, in the form of a molten salt (LFTR), has been neglected.  India has vast reserves. It is much safer than conventional nuclear power in many ways, and has little waste disposal headache.  But LFTR is also highly corrosive.  In late 1960s, an experimental plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, ran for four years, by which time the container was much degraded.

Dec 2011: Thoughts on Thorium by a Prof of Nuclear Physics at ANU

The dream has for decades been fusion, the power source of the sun.  This 'burns' water and promises almost limitless power for very little radioactive waste.  It is also far safer than a fission reaction, a catastrophe like Chernobyl being impossible.  Over fifty years of international effort, it was always '30 years away' from becoming reality.  The two leading designs are the Tokamak, which contains a sun-like plasma in a magnetic 'bottle', and laser inertial confinement fusion (Laser ICF).  Recent breakthroughs in the laser systems are promising, but technical challenges remain.
A major issue is the source of Tritium.  Currently this comes from conventional nuclear powered stations.

Dec 2012: S Korea to build test facility

A third option is hybrid fission-fusion.  As well as enjoying the power output from the fusion component, this confers many of the advantages of the fast breeder process on the fission component.

See also Heat-based Generation


December 2010: A report concludes that nuclear continues to be a viable power source but the current fuel cycle is not sustainable:

January 2011: China claims breakthrough in fuel reprocessing:

March 2011: EU climate commissioner "Wind now cheaper than nuclear"

Feb 2011: Scientists calculate US nuclear subsidy at more than 7c/kWh

April 2011: light ions for fast ignition; US Naval Research Lab:

May 2011: Governments have to pick up bill major accidents

May 2011: China in quest for fusion power

May 2011: US NRC finds fault with new Westinghouse reactor design

May 2011: UK subsidies for nuclear power continue

July 2011: Chinese Fast Reactor goes on-grid:

Sep 2011: New fusion plant using "stellarator" design to be built in Germany:

Jan 2012: German report: full insurance would add from 20c/kWh to $3.40/kWh to cost of nuclear:

Mar 2012: Simulation says Magnetised Inertial Fusion will generate useful output; Sandia National Labs:

Jun 2012: Key process developed in building tokamak core; Uni of Tennessee:

July 2012: US slashes funding for fusion research

Aug 2012: GE chief says nuclear too expensive

Aug 2012: New adsorbents for extracting uranium from seawater

Aug 2012: UK's Plutonium stockpile to fuel new 'fast' reactors

Nov 2012: EDF wants 22c/kWh for nuclear power in UK

Nov 2012: UK and US agree: wind power cheaper than nuclear

Dec 2012: UK's nuclear cleanups to cost $160b

Apr 2013: Former regulator says all US nuclear plant unsafe

Nov 2013: Glass of nuclear waste and blast furnace slag to cut volume 90%

Feb 2014: Fusion edges closer to "ignition" at US NIF

Apr 2014: Dozens of US reactors would not meet revised earthquake standard

Heat-based Generation

Several technologies involve the conversion of energy to heat first and then to electricity.  The second step requires a lower temperature medium for the heat to flow to, usually water or air, and involves an inherent inefficiency.  The higher the temperature difference the greater the efficiency.  Conventional coal-fired stations manage about 45%, while a car engine is only 20%.  This is why electric vehicles can reduce emissions even if the electricity comes from coal.

Where the heat comes from burning a gas (hydrocarbons), the burning fuel can drive a turbine or piston engine directly.  This is "internal" combustion, and can employ the Brayton Cycle.  Otherwise the heat is used to expand a gas, typically steam.  In coal-fired power stations and solar thermal plants the (supercritical) Rankine Cycle is used.

In some situations, e.g. CHP, the spent heat is useful, raising the effective efficiency.

March 2011: Supercritical CO2 Brayton Cycle could raise efficiency of gas-fired to 50%:

June 2011: Device gleans energy from low-level heat waste; Oregon State Uni:


As well as technologies for generating electricity, it is important to look at how we could distribute it across the grid more efficiently.  The present system uses alternating current (AC), even though direct current (DC) is more efficient.  For long-distance transmission, very high voltage levels are needed for efficiency.  These must be stepped down to much lower voltages for domestic use.  To transform voltage so, the current needs to be AC.  When the grid was built, converting from DC to AC was inefficient, so the distribution itself was made AC.

Nowadays there are better ways to convert DC to AC, so a DC distribution network would save energy.  And given a more efficient distribution network, there are more options for siting the power generation.

The cost of maintaining the distribution network is a major component of the retail electricity price.  Right now (2011) major upgrades are planned and electricity prices will soar as a result.  The upgrades are needed because of:

  • Aging infrastructure

State-owned retailers have kept prices low for political reasons and siphoned profits into general revenue.  So no fund has been built up for future upgrades.

  • Rising peak demand

The network has always been built to meet peak demand, which has risen inexorably.  It has been calculated that for each $1000 a household spends on buying air-conditioning, an extra $3000 worth of distribution network is needed.

The solution to this would be demand management.  Ultimately it may require smart metering.  The vision is that the end-user price varies according to current total demand, and household appliances adjust in response. 


May 2011: Winds cool power lines,  boosting capacity

June 2011: Climate spectator: Our costly obsession with air-con

June 2011:

Jan 2012: Apple files patents for powering devices with hydrogen fuel cells

Feb 2012: Microgrids seen as more reliable and more friendly to renewables

May 2012Visions of a smart grid future

June 2012: Pacific Northwest utilities to start smartgrid trial

Nov 2012: Major advance claimed in HVDC circuit breakers

Dec 2012: $130m HVDC link for Finland

Jan 2013: Undersea cable proposed between Iceland and UK

Energy Storage

A cheap and efficient way to store lots of energy would help greatly in both ensuring baseload and meeting peak demands. 

For stationary energy storage, dedicated conventional electrical batteries do not come close.

The cost of storage has three aspects:

  • The cost per unit of energy storable at one time ($/kWh).  Typically in 100s. 
  • The cost per unit of maximum power deliverable when needed ($/kW).  Typically in 1000s.
  • How much energy is lost in process.

For example, suppose you have a windfarm rated at 10MW but you only rely on it for 3MW.  Say you want to cover the possibility of 48 hours of below 3MW output, averaging only 1MW. So you will need 96MWh of storage, with a peak delivery capability of 3MW.  If it costs $9.6m then that's $100/kWh and $3200/W.

If the basic cost of power from the windfarm was $2/W of rating, it cost $20m to build.  The storage therefore adds 50% to the cost.

Note: Claimed storage costs can be confusing.  Sometimes the cost is quoted in terms of stored energy at one instant (typically $100-$1000/kWh for non-heat) and recovery percentage, sometimes in terms of all the energy stored and recovered over the lifetime of the equipment (in the cents/kWh range).  The first format is the one the manufacturer can quote with certainty; the second involves assumptions regarding usage pattern and generation cost.

The heat-storage options are only applicable where the energy is already converted to heat at some point, e.g. solar thermal.

For more information see 

Nov 2011: Breakthrough cathode using copper hexacyanoferrate nanoparticles: cheap, and robust.

Mar 2012: Cheap cathode from pulp mill waste; Linköping Uni:

Apr 2012: Uni of Minnesota licenses its isothermal CAES technology

Jun 2012: Copper-graphene nano-coax capacitor

Jun 2012: Isentropic's Pumped Heat (Gravel) system targets $8/kWh, 75% recovery

Jun 2012: Aqueous sodium ion battery targets $200/kWh, 85% recovery

Jul 2012: Electric Flux Capacitor for grid scale storage

Jul 2012: Microbes to store electrical energy as methane

Aug 2012: BiS additive boosts Fe-air battery efficiency

Aug 2012: Combined solar, wind and storage unit from German Institute

Aug 2012: Ireland plans cliff-top pumped hydro with seawater

Oct 2012: Liquefied air energy storage

Oct 2012: Management system claimed to double battery effectiveness

Nov 2012: Compressed air with water for heat recovery claims 70% efficiency

Nov 2012: EV batteries provide domestic storage when past useful life for vehicles

Dec 2012: US DoE earmarks $120m for improving EV batteries

Dec 2012: Carbon nanotube forest on graphene makes supercapacitor

Dec 2012: H2 as energy store still excites interest

Jan 2013

Belgium plans artificial North Sea island for pumped hydro

36MW storage for Texas wind farm

Costs could halve in ten years

Feb 2013

Si nanoparticles replace graphite anode for cheap, fast Li-ion battery

Mar 2013

Disused iron ore mine to provide 2GWh of pumped hydro

Lifetime C-footprint and energy assessments for storage technologies  

Pike Research expects grid storage to grow 56GW by 2022

Redox flow batteries achieve 25kW

ARENA grants CSIRO $480k to test battery technology

Apr 2013:

Gravity train to be trialled

Clifftop pumped saltwater hydro proposed in WA

Open air plasma ring

ZnFe Redox Flow batteries

Stanford's Li-polysulphide flow battery eliminates membrane

Organic-Molybdenum catalyst for H2 production

Undersea pumped hydro for offshore wind using hollow concrete spheres

May 2013

Domestic PV storage set to take off?

Rust+gold as hydrolysis catalyst

Compressed air in porous rocks

NaS grid storage pilot in California

Boron-Graphene matrix soaks up Lithium

CoO and NiFeOH catalysts for cheaper, more efficient, higher density Zn-Air battery

June 2013

Graphene strips boost Li-ion anodes

German wind farm stores spare energy as Hydrogen

July 2013

TiO2 makes cheap capacitor

Aug 2013

Graphene supercapacitor reaches charge density of 60Wh/l

Carbon nanotubes support Si in Li-ion battery

Study sheds light on graphene's properties

Laminar flow avoids need for membrane in Br-H battery

Sep 2013

Review of grid storage technology

Zn-air claimed to reach twice the energy of Li-ion at a third the cost

Steam engine resurrected as energy storage

Isothermal CAES for greater efficiency

MXenes (transition metal carbides) assist Li-ion batteries

Oct 2013 

Gravity storage using disused mineshafts

UK report judges grid scale LAES will be 60% efficient, $200/kWh

Wood biochar for cheaper supercapacitors

Integrated battery+inverter for PV uses PCM to handle heat

Silicon supercapacitors could provide integrated storage for PV cells

Nov 2013

Nanowires built by virus offer more surface

Eos Zn-air battery (10000 cycles, $160/kWh, 75% recovery) going into production

Stanford comparison of utility scale storage options

Dec 2013

Hitachi to enter grid-storage market

US DoE releases report on grid storage

Alternatives to battery storage: Chemical, pumped hydro, CAES

CAES as a Solar Bank

Tesla offers batteries for peak levelling in commercial buildings

Organic flow batteries much cheaper than metal-based

Metal hydride "proton flow" battery would be lighter than Li-ion

Jan 2014

Roundup of grid storage technologies and companies

Feb 2014

MoS2 in graphene sandwich provides stable cathode for Na-ion

Japan installs used EV batteries at 10MW solar farm

Mar 2014

Oz potential for pumped hydro may have been underestimated

eV2g, Electric Vehicle to Grid

EVs plugged into the grid whenever possible can be charged up when other demand is low and feed back into the grid when demand is high.  To be effective in practice, this may require charging points at places of work, which will complicate the accounting.  Even so, trials are underway.

Sep 2011

Transport energy storage must also be lightweight.  Petrol has 50 times the energy / kg as the best batteries

Jan 2012: Li-air battery life breakthrough promises 800km range: 

Mar 2012: DVD burner creates high density graphene capacitor; UCLA:

Apr 2012: Liquid Metal Battery company spun off from MIT:

Apr 2012: RedFlow delays expansion plans

May 2012Double-walled Si nanotube a durable anode for Li-ion battery

Aug 2012: Murdoch Uni's Phosphate-based anode for Na-ion battery

Aug 2012: Ford to invest $135m in advanced battery technology

Aug 2012: Gashed graphene anode charges Li-ion battery 10 times faster

Sep 2012: Liquid metal (Mg-Sb) battery for large scale storage

Nov 2012: Rice team triples storage/gram of Li-ion

Nov 2012: Li-air battery without free lithium

Dec 2012: Toyota opts for breakthrough Mg-ion battery

Dec 2012: Plant dye provides Li-ion cathode

Jan 2013: Packaging cathode in TiO nanospheres enables Li-S batteries

Feb 2013: IBM's 'moonshot' promises Li-air prototype in 2014

Mar 2013: Aqueous Rechargeable Lithium (ARLB) reaches 446Wh/kg

Apr 2013:

5000 cycles claimed for Aqueous Hybrid Ion (AHI), targets 10c/kWh LCOSE

Domestic power storage coming to Oz

Mar 201440% cost reduction target for ZnBr flow batteries 


Technologies for Transport

The special consideration for transport is portability.

Glossing over walking and cycling, clearly to be encouraged for their health benefits as well as being carbon-neutral and cheap, for land transport we have:

April 2014: Comparison of transport footprints

Air transport is tougher.  Batteries being still much too heavy, hydrocarbons are the only feasible technology today for commercial aircraft.  But single- and two-seater electric aircraft do exist:

As with carbon-based power stations, the hidden cost of poor air quality is huge. 

Feb 2011: Dirty air triggers heart attacks; Hasselt Uni, Belgium:

May 2011: Bio-derived jet fuel possible; CSIRO:

June 2011: KLM to fly on recycled cooking oil

Oct 2011: Solar-powered cargo airships

Dec 2011: Removing sulphur from jet fuel won't have a downside for GW

July 2012: Powering flight by laser from ground

Dec 2012: Nonstop round-the-world solar-powered flight?

Dec 2012: BA to build aviation  biofuel plant

Feb 2013: NASA designs plane that uses half the fuel

Feb 2013: Russia earmarks $21m for solar-powered flight research

May 2013: Solar Impulse flies 1500km

Aug 2013: Airline cut emissions 18% in 8 years

Aug 2013: Chart of carbon intensities of transport modes

Sep 2013: Aerofoil deck to cut drag on cargo ships

Petrol and Diesel Engines

The internal combustion engine is only about 20% efficient at turning the chemical energy into forward motion.  In addition to CO2, it generates nitrogen oxides, harmful to health and also GHGs.  As the readily available oil runs out, sources such as deep water reserves, tar sands, and oil from coal become economically viable, increasing the rate of environmental damage.

April 2011:  Laser ignition improves efficiency, reduces smog; Japan National Inst of Natural Sci:

Nov 2011: US proposes to double auto fuel economy by 2025

Mar 2012: Electricity to petrol; UCLA:

Jan 2013: Air pollution killed 3.2m in 2010.

Aug 2013: Low temperature combustion for cleaner diesel engines 

Aug 2013: Cameras instead of wing mirrors greatly improve mpg

Electric Vehicles

Even if the electricity is produced from fossil fuels, electric vehicles have a similar or lower carbon footprint than petrol and diesel vehicles.  An internal combustion engine only achieves about 20%.  Taking into account the energy used in producing petrol in the first place, that drops to 17%.  Power stations convert fuel to electricity with an efficiency of up to 40%.  Some is lost in the transmission of the electricity, but it still comes out ahead.

One problem with electric cars is that you might not hear them coming.  This is being addressed.

A key problem has been the batteries, both their weight and their life expectancies.  Lithium ion batteries and their derivatives have been a great advance, but still expensive.

June 2010: carbon nanotubes in lithium batteries; MIT:

June 2010: EU agrees standard for plugs and sockets for car recharging:

Oct 2010: Silicon boosts capacity of Li-ion; Rice Uni.:

Nov 2010: Toyota EV To Go Over 100 Km On Single Charge

Nov 2010: GE To Buy 25,000 Electric Cars

Nov 2010: Report says new energy storage technologies crucial; American Physical Society's Panel on Public Affairs:

Dec 2010: Lithium-ion battery to store 2.2MWh: 

Dec 2010: Paris launches self-service electric car hire:

Jan 2011: Li-ion battery with "nanoscoops" charges 40 times faster; Rensselaer Polytechnic:

Feb 2011: Nanosheets promise supercapacitors; Trinity Dublin & Uni of Oxford:

Feb 2011: SnC anode with Li-ion cathode achieves long life, broad temperature range and 170Wh/kg; Uni of Rome:

Feb 2011: Microspheres in the anode heal cracks, prevent fires in Li-ion batteries; Uni of Illinois:

March 2011: HCl improves capacity and temperature range of Va-redox batteries; US DoE: 

March 2011: 3D nanostructure speeds charge/discharge 100x; Uni of Illinois:

April 2011: Nanowires make refuelling as fast as for petrol; Colorado State:

April 2011: Li-air battery would match petrol for energy density; Risø DTU, Denmark:

May 2011: Activated Graphene; US DoE:

May 2011: France introduces electric garbage trucks

May 2011: Online auction to optimise recharging; Uni of So'ton:

May 2011: Vehicle-to-grid balancing could earn electric vehicle fleets $1000 a year per vehicle; UK National Grid study:

May 2011: Japanese electric car goes 300km on single charge

May 2011: Israeli company plans battery swap network

May 2011: US study: what consumers will pay for improvements

June 2011: Whole-of-life assessment of carbon footprint - conventional, EV and hybrid


June 2011: Capacity and cycle lifetime of Na-ion rechargeables increased; US DoE:

June 2011:  "Semi-solid flow" cells promise to halve size, cut price, extend range and speed recharge; MIT:

June 2011: Airbag anchored underwater stores for a few cents/kWh 

July 2011: Solar heat stored in carbon nanotubes; MIT:

July 2011: Graphene-tin nanocomposite boosts Li battery; Berkeley Lab: 



Sep 2011: Li-ion batteries charge 5 times faster with TiO2 ; Oak Ridge

Sep 2011: Li-ion more efficient with anode binder from kelp; Georgia Inst of Tech.

Oct 2011: Fluoride-ion (F-ion) battery increases storage 

Nov 2011: Silicon-graphene sandwich to charge Li-ion batteries ten times as much, ten times as fast ; Northwestern Uni 


Nov 2011: Recharge on the move from coils in the road

Nov 2011: Li-ion car battery ignites 3 weeks after crash test: 

Dec 2011: Battery-switching centre opens in Guangzhou

Jan 2012: Li-air battery life breakthrough promises 800km range:

Feb 2012: Electric trucks save money; MIT:

Feb 2012: Company claims Li-ion battery half the weight, half the cost:

April 2012: The Copenhagen Wheel converts any bicycle to electric with regenerative coasting

May 2012: LA to create eHighway: overhead power for electric trucks

Jul 2012: Phase-change coolant extends battery life

Jul 2012: Interior Permanent Magnet traction motor boosts power and efficiency, lowers cost

Oct 2012: Portable thin-film solar battery charger

Oct 2012: Fast charging coupler standard agreed

Oct 2012: Portable mains battery charger

Oct 2012: UK club rents EVs to businesses at $8/hour. 

Jan 2013: PV+EV is 30 times more efficient use of land than bioethanol  


Jan 2013: Sn-C nanocomposite anode for fast charging Li-ion , on market in 2-3 years

Jan 2013: Na/Li-ion battery for buses   


Feb 2013: Italian company claims 1000km range, 10 minute charge time (!!)

Mar 2013: Theory may help prevent Li-ion battery degradation

Mar 2013: US online shopping deliveries by e-bike

Mar 2013: EVs beat biofuel for efficiency

Apr 2013: 7-fold advance in LiS battery cycles


Graphene-Si nanoplatelets give Li-ion 4x capacity

Tin nanocrystal anode increases storage in Li-ion  


Apr 2013: Batteries may still reach 80% capacity after 20 years, and find other use beyond that (but they don't like going over 30C)

Apr 2013: Waste sulphur can be used in LiS

May 2013: Motor serving as charger quarters charging time, cuts cost

May 2013: Qld mfr claims 80% recharge in 30 minutes

May 2013: Electric buses to top up in 15 seconds at stops  

June 2013:

Ultracapacitors provide regenerative braking in trains

Solid LiS with four times density of Li-ion

Durable Li-ion achieves 85% capacity after 10,000 cycles  

Nano-carbon catalyst for batteries and fuel cells avoids precious metals

Si-hydrogel electrodes increase density of Li-ion

Tesla demos 90-second battery swap  

Aug 2013:

Kickstarter project claims 'level 2' fast charging for $100

ConEdison study of impact of EV uptake on grid

In-transit charging for buses in S Korea 

Flow battery targets 380km range 

Sep 2013: Tesla Model S driven 625 km on one charge

Oct 2013: Oz company launches solar-powered tuk tuk

Oct 2013: Scheme to incorporate lightweight batteries into car components  

Nov 2013: Sulphur-graphene oxide (S-GO) may provide 500km battery

Nov 2013: Electric van  does 1300km on one charge

Dec 2013: Results of 2 year EV fleet trial in WA

Dec 2013: Electric bus that recharges en route

Jan 2014: Ford estimates 2.8l/100km for its new plugless solar hybrid

Jan 2014Graphene shield extends life of anode in LiS battery

Feb 2014: US utilities see no difficulty meeting demand from plug-in EVs

Mar 2014:

Tesla "Giga" factory promises cheaper home storage

EV charging peak could be spread by taking turns

Tesla model E planned for 300km range and $35k US price tag

Sb nanocrystal anode doubles charging of Li-ion

See also Energy Storage

Hybrid Vehicles

A hybrid attempts to combine the efficiency of an electric car for short journeys with the range of a petrol car when you need it.  The downside is that your efficiency when running on petrol may be even worse than for a conventional car - you still have to carry that load of batteries around.  On the plus side, though, you can get a boost from the battery when accelerating rapidly, e.g. from a standing start.  Getting that bit extra from a petrol engine is particularly inefficient.

Another solution would be a  network of battery-swap stations.  This is more likely to succeed in high population density areas, such as western Europe.  Given the weight of the batteries, swapping them is not so trivial as it may sound.

Nov 2010: UC Riverside; hybrid tugs reduce emissions at California ports:

April 2011: Wave Disk Generator far more efficient than conventional internal combustion, works well in hybrid; Michigan State Uni:

Aug 2013: UNSW unveils solar hybrid

Sep 2013: Toyota Prius targets 4.3L/100km


Plants store energy as oils, sugars and celluloses. 
  • Sugars

The sugars are the most easily digested by both us and microbes, so the ethanol made today is from the edible parts of food crops, such as corn (maize).  This has several drawbacks.  It pushes up food prices internationally and uses such carbon-intensive methods as to neutralise the advantage over fossil fuels.  It only succeeds commercially because of subsidies won by the farmers' lobbies.

June 2010:

Dec 2010: Georgia Inst of Tech.; Modified bacterium speeds ethanol production:

Dec 2010: Uni of Illinois; New yeast strain converts sugars in red seaweed 3 times as fast:

Aug 2011: Rice Uni; Glucose to butanol 10 times faster:

Jan 2012: Berkeley; Breakthrough in using seaweed:

Jun 2012: Cornell; stopping fermentation short of ethanol eases separation from water

Aug 2012: Illinois; copolymer captures butanol, doubling production and cutting costs

Apr 2013: Enzymes from extremophiles release H from xylose

Jun 2013: Artificial photosynthesis with self-assembling DNA

  • Celluloses

A key part of the technology is microbes that can digest the tougher plant matter, such as lignin (the woody bit), cellulose and hemicellulose. Hemicellulose breakdown product acetic acid is toxic to yeasts.

Jan 2010

May 2010: Gene discovery potential key to cost-competitive cellulosic ethanol

June 2010: North Carolina State University; ozone to break down lignin:

Sep 2010: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; genes found that make lignin so hard to break down:

Oct 2010: New Enzyme

Oct 2010: Denmark; 2nd gen ready for production:

Nov 2010: University of Illinois; field study on switchgrass and miscanthus:

Nov 2012: Bacterium discovered in garbage

Dec 2012: Expected 20-fold ramp up in 2013

Mar 2013: Cellulosic ethanol tipped to compete with corn-based by 2016

May 2013: Biofuels pioneer gives up, switches support to gas

June 2013: Molecular switch ramps up enzyme production in fungi

June 2013: Structure of enzyme from wood borer decoded

Oct 2013: Super enzyme malkes biofuel from wood in hours

Jan 2014: Hot springs bacterium makes short work of cellulose

This opens up two approaches
  • Waste from crop plants

Fuel derived from the unusable parts of existing crops is the ideal.  The only downside is the loss to the cropland of the compost it would otherwise have formed.  But traditionally, much would have been burnt anyway, and the nitrogen etc. may still be available as fertiliser after biofuel extraction.

Jan 2011: Canadian start-up uses all parts of flax:

May 2011: Biowaste for aircraft fuel

June 2012: Bagasse from sorghum and the rubber crop guayule

Aug 2012Integrated Hydropyrolysis and Hydroconversion (IH2) scaling up OK

Nov 2012: New process developed in Oz

  • Purpose-grown crops

Leading contenders are grasses, such as switchgrass and Miscanthus.

If to be harvested on a worthwhile scale without displacing food crops, they will replace natural vegetation.  This creates a "carbon debt" which it will take some years to recover.

 25th May 2010: Miscanthus; UK Met Office:

November 2010: Economically competitive within a decade; Boston Consulting Group

Feb 2012: Low energy process gets 9 times the yield per acre from miscanthus than from corn, for 16c/l

Jan 2014: Boeing develops fuel from desert plants and saltwater irrigation

Jan 2011: New yeast strain consumes both glucose and xylose;  Uni of Illinois, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Uni of California and BP:

Jan 2011: Half the world's fuel could come from biofuels without displacing other crops; Uni of Illinois:

Jan 2011: Agave has promise;

Jan 2011: Microbial genes from cow's rumen analysed; Uni of Illinois:

Feb 2011: Study casts doubt on US target of 30% biofuel by 2030; Uni of Illinois:

Mar 2011: Problem overcome in getting bugs to make butanol; Uni of California:

Mar 2011: Study considers land use emissions from sugarcane ethanol; Karlsruhe Inst of Tech:

Mar 2011: US DoE; microbe makes isobutanol directly from cellulose:

Mar 2011: Lund Uni; Enzymes from soil digest xylose (major component of hemicellulose):

Aug 2011: Bioethanol from kelp:

Sep 2011: How fungi digest cellulose; Uni of  York and others:

Nov 2011: With support, wood-based biofuel could be viable by 2020; Uni Brit Columbia:

Dec 2011:  Butanol from lignocellulose fraction; Aalto Uni:

July 2012: BP targets production in 2014

Dec 2012: Enzyme boosts content of ethanol precursor

July 2013: Gasification makes biofuel under $140/l

Oct 2013: Bacterium found to digest acetic acid

Jan 2014Protic ionic liquids dissolve out the lignin cheaply

  • Oils (and animal fats)

Oil from jatropha seeds is used in some countries, but there's generally not enough oil in plants to make it worth extracting as biofuel specifically. 

A great deal of waste vegetable oil (and animal fat) is produced by existing food processing.  These can only provide a small proportion of total demand, but are being used, mostly by the companies that generate the waste.

Bacteria might be engineered to produce oils.

Sep 2010:

Oct 2010:

Jan 2011: Jatropha less robust than claimed:

Mar 2013: KLM to cross Atlantic on waste cooking oil

 Aviation needs a particularly high energy to mass ratio, which means hydrocarbons.  Algae may be useful here.  This lowers the carbon footprint but does not yet eliminate it.

 See also Biomass, Algae

Feb 2011: Enzyme mix eliminates detox step; Virginia tech:

Apr 2011: Alumina nano-particles improve biofuel efficiency; National Inst Tech, India:

May 2011: Biofuels can have worse footprint than fossil fuels; MIT:

May 2011: Hydrotreated Renewable Jet fuel nears certification:

July 2012: BP plans two new biofuels by 2014

Aug 2012: MIT: continuous production from superbug

Oct 2012: Nanobowls protect biofuel catalysts

Nov 2013: Hydrogen car offers 600km range, refuel in minutes, but only 30% efficient


June 2012Cargo ship to run on wind and gas


The hydrogen can be produced from electricity, particularly when there's surplus in the grid.  It could also be produced directly from sunlight, as in photosynthesis.

To replace a given quantity of petrol you only need a third of the hydrogen by weight, but that is vastly more by volume at atmospheric pressure.  So storage is a problem.  It can be pressurised, as with LPG, or stored in a tank containing materials which absorb the hydrogen.

In the vehicle, the hydrogen can be burnt to drive a combustion engine much like that used with petrol, or it can be converted back to electricity in a fuel cell.  The latter is much more efficient but there are major technical challenges still to be overcome.

Advances have been made both in generating the hydrogen (hydrolysis) and in using it in a fuel cell to form electricity, but it remains a very inefficient process overall - about 25% compared with 70% for battery power. 

May 2010: FePt/Pd nanoparticle fuel-cell catalyst; Brown Uni:

June 2010:  Riversimple's open-source hydrogen car:

June 2010: New process for storing and generating hydrogen; Purdue University:

August 2010: New platinum/titanium-oxide/tungsten-oxide catalyst more stable and cheaper; Cornell University:

August 2010: New nickel-borate catalyst 200 times more efficient at hydrolysis; MIT:

August 2010: Lung-like fuel cell needs less platinum; Norwegian Academy of Sciences:

September 2010: metallacarborane could store hydrogen; Rice University:

November 2010: palladium-gold core prolongs and enhances platinum catalyst; US DoE, Brookhaven:

December 2010: a cyanobacterium that produces ten times the hydrogen; Washington University:

February 2011: nanobeads of ammonia-borane hydride; Cella Energy, Didcot, UK:

March 2011:  Nanocomposites for high density H2 storage; Berkeley:

March 2011:  Carbon nanotubes dipped in polymer replace platinum catalyst, last longer; Case Western Reserve:

March 2011:  TiO2 nanocrystals raise cell efficiency; TU Delft:

March 2011: Nanowires of Bulk Metallic Glass boost efficiency; Yale School of Engineering:

April 2011: First macro-scale thin-film solid-oxide fuel cell; Cambridge Uni, Mass.:

April 2011: Amorphous molybdenum sulphide (MoS2) replaces platinum catalyst in H2 production; Ec. Poly. Fed. de Lausanne:

April 2011: Polymer-iron-cobalt catalyst replaces platinum in fuel cell; Los Alamos:

May 2011: MoS2 better when coated on silicon pillars; Stanford:

May 2011: Pipelined H2 refuelling station opens in US

May 2011: Atomic Layer Deposition protects Cu2O semiconductor; EPFL, Lausanne:

May 2011: US DoE finds high temperature ferrite process best at splitting water ...:

May 2011:  ... but how about Birnessite?  Monash:

May 2011: Structure of proteins that transport electrons; Uni of East Anglia:

Aug 2011: Hydrogen from rooftop solar ; Duke Uni:

Aug 2011: Catalyst speeds release from ammonia borane; USC:

Aug 2011: GaN doped with Sb for H2 from sunlight; Kentucky Uni:

Sep 2011: Iron veins help Mg store H; US NIST:

Oct 2011: Cobalt compound speeds hydrolysis by factor of 10; MIT:

Nov 2011: Boron-nitrogen-based liquid-phase storage material; Uni of Oregon:

Dec 2011: Modified photosynthesis produces H2; Penn State Uni:

Jan 2012: RMIT proposes hydrogen for trucks:

Mar 2012: Nanowire forest produces H2 from sunlight:

Mar 2012: Densely storing H2 as formic acid; Brookhaven:

Mar 2012: FePtAu catalyst boosts performance and prolongs life of formic acid fuel cell: Brown Uni:

May 2012: Ni-Mo-N nanosheet catalyst: low cost with high durability and output; Brookhaven National Lab:

Aug 2012: UNSW: Ni-NaBH nanoparticles store H2

Aug 2012: UK's first hydrogen powered train

Aug 2012: Cambridge Uni: Co catalyst for cheap H2 production

Oct 2012: Co-graphene catalyst could replaced Pt in cell

Nov 2012: Nickel and nanocrystals for cheap catalyst

Nov 2012: ANU team clarifies structure of catalyst plants use

Feb 2013: Iron-based catalyst far cheaper for splitting water

Mar 2013: NiFeO thin film catalyst optimised

May 2013: Nanoforest uses sun to split water

July 2013: Li helps MoS2 catalyse H2 production

July 2013: Co-Rho catalyst for H2 from ethanol

July 2013: Nanoparticle proximity yields 8-fold rise in current for Platinum

July 2013: Simple cell and anode achieves 5% conversion of light energy to H2

Aug 2013: Purple of saltflat bacterium assists catalyst making H2 from sunlight

Aug 2013: Hairy WS2 crystals catalyse H2 in fuel cell

Aug 2013: Metal oxide sunbaked to 1350C splits water

Sep 2013: Carbon catalyst and laser power

Sep 2013: Solar generation efficiency lifted from 4.2% to 5.3%

Nov 2013: Nickel film on Silicon makes cheap water splitter

Jan 2014: Dye-sensitized photoelectrosynthesis splits water with sunlight

Jan 2014: MoS2 does best when one atom thick

Feb 2014: Artifical leaf helped by relay step used by natural ones

Feb 2014: Cheap catalyst  FexOy+NiO on BiVO4 gets 1.7% efficiency solar to H2

Feb 2014: Polyhedral Pt-Ni nanoframework blitzes 2017 efficiency target


Already widely used, but emits 80% as much CO2 as petrol and global reserves are limited.

Direct production of hydrocarbons

Jan 2011: Cerium catalyst + Fischer-Tropsch produces hydrocarbons directly from water, CO2 and sunlight; CalTech:

[Note: As admitted in the article, this suffers from the same snag as using algae: it will need concentrated CO2.  Today that can come from coal-fired power-stations, but that doesn't make for a zero-carbon economy.  Turning the CO2 back into a fuel for transport is just a single recycling.  The transport releases the CO2 into the air.  The overall result is to slow the addition of CO2 to the main cycle, not to halt it.  For road transport, electricity and hydrogen both remain much better options.  The tough one is air transport.]

Oct 2012: UK company creating hydrocarbons from renewable energy and CO2 from the air

Mar 2013: Iceland exporting methanol from geothermal power

Regenerative braking

This is a way to save fuel rather than a fuel in itself.  The idea has been around for decades - instead of turning all the kinetic energy of a moving vehicle into heat when you brake, turn some back into fuel.

Proposed schemes include:

July 2012: Regenerative braking for Pennsylvanian trains

Mass Transit

Jan 2013: Norway to get World's first electric ferry

Aug 2010: University of York (2010, August 18). How to reduce UK transport carbon emissions by 76 per cent by 2050.

Oct 2012: Oz high-speed train proposal gets international attention

June 2013: Japanese Maglev reaches 500kph

July 2013: Tube train in a vacuum could reach 6000kph(!)

Aug 2013: Elon Musk proposes Hyperloop

Aug 2013: Copenhagen helps cyclists use trains

Sep 2013: Japanese Maglev train reaches 500km/h

Sep 2013: German bus with modular batteries and regenerative braking


 Carbon Drawdown

Since there is already more CO2 in the atmosphere than is safe (380+ ppm compared with 350), there is a need to draw CO2 back out.  This can be done by

Biochar is another name for charcoal; a fuel that will burn at the higher temperatures needed for some processes than would the biomass from which it was made.  But calling it biochar puts the accent on an alternative use, namely, to sequester carbon.  Some energy is still derived from the charring process, but much less than by burning the biomass completely.  The resulting char is used to remediate soils, greatly improving their retention of water and nutrients, while also removing the carbon from circulation for a period.  How long it stays out of circulation varies greatly (see table here).  Any incentive paid to farmers would need to take that into account.  It in no way removes the need to stop exploiting fossil fuels.

It has been calculated that carried out on a world scale, largely by peasant farmers, this could draw down enough carbon.  Organising it would be a major challenge.

May 2013: Sequestration in soil in no way reduces need to cut fossil fuel emissions

Artificial trees and scrubbing towers

These are methods for extracting CO2 from the atmosphere, but still as CO2.  It then has to be sequestered in the same way as with CCS.  This may be cheaper than retrofitting CCS to existing plant because the scrubbers would be sited close to the repository.

May 2011: Direct Removal of Carbon Dioxide from Air Likely Not Viable

Oct 2011: UK Engineers predict technology in 2018

July 2012: Advances in adsorptive materials

May 2013: Easier to extract the CO2 from seawater than from air

Ocean fertilisation

Phytoplankton are the main photosynthesising organisms in the oceans.  Their abundance is often limited by lack of iron, so the idea is to fertilise the oceans with iron and generate phytoplankton blooms to absorb CO2.  Numerous experiments have been conducted, with varying results; in some cases the sequestration is only temporary.  If it works, it is relatively cheap.  The main concern is the inherent uncertainty in monkeying with ecology.  Experiments continue.

February 2011: UN study says only 1-15% carbon sinks to depths:

March 2011: Phytoplankton only account for 1% of oceanic sequestration anyway; CNRS, France:

September 2011: Natural fertilisation with dust may have triggered glaciation:

June 2013: Iron-hogging alga dents effectiveness of fertilisation



The term geo-engineering has been used to cover rather a wide range of proposals. 


  • increase reflectivity ('albedo') in urban areas
Most proposals relate to rooves.  In some places, this can pay for itself in reduced air-conditioning costs.  However, the same savings might be made more cheaply with insulation, so an incentive is needed to encourage the whitening of rooves.

These last four are better described as carbon drawdown


  • block sunlight on the grand scale

E.g. by deliberate release of SO2 (after decades of trying to reduce SO2 emissions!) or by parasols in space.  The SO2 would be pushed into the stratosphere where it will remain for years (at lower levels it rains out in a few days).  This has many downsides:

    • Does nothing to reduce the CO2 burden on the oceans.
    • Plants need light more than they need heat.  A cool planet isn't much use to them if it's also dark. 
    • Light enhances evaporation from oceans beyond the effect of its heat, so shading could lead to droughts.
    • High tech is risky
    • Large carbon footprint in the implementation
    • Would lead to complacency about emissions
    • Unilateral action could lead to international conflict
    • Hard to undo if it goes wrong

This may be already happening accidentally (Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1182274).

Feb 2011: Ocean Fertilization: IGBP Policymakers' Summary;

Sep 2011: Oz conference on geo-eng:

Sep 2011: UK to trial geo-eng solutions:

Jan 2012: Stratospheric sulphate risky and of limited effectiveness; Uni of Washington:

Mar 2012: Cloud seeding with salt water in Arctic could restore ice cap, protect permafrost, reduce methane emissions:

May 2012: Patent concerns shelve UK Stratospheric Particle Injection experiment

June 2012: Shading sunlight could cut rainfall

July 2012: Update on 2004 study supports ocean Fe fertilisation

Aug 2012: Saltwater fountain to brighten clouds

Sep 2012: Sunshade costed at $5bn/y

Dec 2012: Fertilising Southern Ocean not cost-effective

Jan 2013: Seeding cirrus clouds could cut 0.8C for $20m/y

Apr 2013: Avoiding warming won't prevent all CO2's impacts on climate

Jun 2013: Wetlands stronger carbon sink than forests

Jul 2013: Cloud seeding could cool reef

Oct 2013: IPCC concedes it may be necessary

Nov 2013: Risk of global drought

Dec 2013: Effectiveness of  blocking sunlight questioned

Jan 2014Blocking sunlight would mess with rainfall

Mar 2014: Low methane gut bacteria identified in marsupials


Sep 2010:

Nov 2010: UN Moratorium?



Agricultural methane is a major component of the GHGs for which humans are responsible.  Although it naturally converts to CO2 in a few years, while it is methane it is many times as potent as a greenhouse gas.  Averaged over 20 years, carbon atom-for-carbon atom, it's 35 times as potent as CO2.

Jan 2011: Strip tilling reduces nitrous oxide emissions; Uni of Missouri:

March 2011: Biochar reduces GHG nitrous oxide from cattle urine 70%

March 2011: Anaerobic digester cuts methane, produces energy; Unis Southampton & Reading UK:

April 2011: Diets to reduce emissions from livestock; UK Defra:

May 2011: Beer by-product in feed cuts methane emissions; Vic Dept of Primary Industries:

July 2011: Low-methane bacteria in wallaby's gut might work for cattle:

Sep 2011: Rural bioenergy hubs:

Dec 2011: Wine dregs in feed cut methane 20%:

Jan 2012: Anaerobic digester powers farm and provides better fertiliser

Feb 2012:  Rotational grazing could reduce emissions:

Sep 2012: Fungi could undo carbon capture in soil

Apr 2013: Soil carbon not as stable as thought

Oct 2013: Solar powered irrigation pumps

Jan 2014: Ruminomics: cutting the methane cowbelch

Feb 2014Better livestock diet would cut emissions up to 23%

Domestic and Industrial Efficiency


Jan 2011: Current Technology Could Reduce Global Energy Demand by 85%:

Jan 2011: Efficiency could cut world's energy use 70%:

Feb 2011: "Net-zero" house planned in Washington DC:

Nov 2011: DuPont says 40% efficiency savings easy

Dec 2012: 6-star home energy features pay back in 15 years

Domestic electricity


See section under stationary energy

Mar 2012: New options for minimising bills

Solar Thermoelectric

This differs from photovoltaic in that it does involve a heat stage,  but also differs from solar thermal because the heat is turned straight to electricity instead of being used to push steam through a turbine.

The efficiency is low, but it has the advantages of being combinable with solar hot water systems and of being very cheap.

May 2011: MIT:

Smart Grid

In today's electricity grids supply has to adjust to demand.  This causes massive spikes in generation cost at times of peak demand.  In a "smart grid ", some of the demand adjusts to match supply.  This will be particularly useful for electric cars, allowing them to be charged at cheap rates.

May 2011: US EPRI calculates 4:1 payback over 20 years:


Being able to measure what appliances use how much and when can help greatly in getting the best out of PV on your roof and in minimising your bills if you're on time-of-day tariff.

June 2012: Sydney students develop home metering tool


Compact fluorescent bulbs are four times as efficient as incandescent and have largely replaced them in Australia.  LEDs promise even more efficiency, greater lifetimes and less issues with toxic components in recycling, but it has been difficult achieving white light and scaling up the power to area lighting.  The best currently available for domestic use are about the same efficiency as compact fluorescents (10%). 

Another technology on the horizon is Electron Stimulated Luminescence (ESL).

April 2011: Progress in understanding what limits usefulness of LEDs

Nov 2011: Intelligent public lighting system saves 70-80%

May 2012: "Breathing" 27W LED lamp achieves 100W incandescent brightness

Nov 2012: More retrofittable LEDs on market

Dec 2012: FIPEL lights, cheaper than LEDs, more efficient than CFL, no buzz

Jan 2013: LEDs set to overtake CFLs

Jan 2013: Firefly trick boosts LED efficiency 55%

Mar 2013: LEDs below $10/bulb

Apr 2013: Philips claims tripled efficiency of white LEDs to 200 lumens/W

Aug 2013: Progress in understanding why LEDs degrade

Oct 2013: LEDs reach equivalent of 60W incandescent

Nov 2013: US NRDC's guide to lightbulbs

Mar 2014: LEDs get cheaper, more reliable


Mar 2014: London to extract heat from Thames

Refrigeration and AC

May 2011: Replacing HFCs in fridge manufacture also saves you energy

June 2011: Using waste heat to cool

Jan 2012: Phase-change materials to provide thermal inertia, precooling for AC

Apr 2012: Solar-powered air-con to cut peak demand

Jun 2012: White roof cuts A/C bill up to 20%

Jun 2012: "Cool blue" pigment reflects 40%

Jun 2012: Smart A/C cuts costs up to 30%

Aug 2012: A/C that switches off when you leave the room

Jan 2013: Smart thermostats save money

Jan 2013: CSIRO spin-off seeks share of $6b commercial buildings efficiency market


April 2011: Low footprint bricks:

May 2011: Software aids natural cooling:

Nov 2011: Contractor offers makeovers for share of savings:

Dec 2011: Thin film insulation for buildings: 

Jan 2012: Uni of Melbourne report on reflective roofing:

Feb 2012: Cross-laminated timber to replace concrete and steel?

Feb 2012: Neo-classical cement: 60% of the cost and 3% of the CO2

Mar 2012: CERN's high vacuum technology used in solar thermal panels: 

Mar 2012: Let the light in, turn the heat into power:

May 2012: $20m Empire State Building efficiency work will pay back in 5 years

July 2012: Optimising window power

July 2012: Solar heating and cooling

Aug 2012: Solar-powered attic fan

Dec 2012: Eco-cement to sequester CO2, not produce it

Dec 2012: Biocement supports plant growth

Feb 2013: For 10% extra, the façade is the power source

Mar 2013: Adding straw to concrete

May 2013: Fibro retrofit

July 2013: Successful Empire State retrofit model rolls out across US

Aug 2013: Energy efficient windows inspired by plant vascular systems

Aug 2013: Low-cost passive house wins competition in Washington DC

Aug 2013: Smart windows allow you to select light and/or heat

Aug 2013: Virtual Net Metering encourages PV on apartment blocks

Sep 2013: Personal comfort system avoids heating/cooling entire room

Sep 2013: How US DoE building code on draughtiness would save us money

Oct 2013: US NREL to launch efficiency audit App for commercial buildings

Mar 2014: Austral launch world-first carbon neutral bricks


May 2012: Lightweight motor enables battery-powered garden tools 

Dec 2012: "Warm mix" asphalt recycles plastic, cuts heat requirement

Jan 2013: Global contest to develop efficient computer screens

Feb 2013: Smart electric motors are more efficient

Mar 2013: Graphene filter for cheaper desalination

May 2013: Carbon-free steelmaking

June 2013: New catalyst for destroying nitrous oxide

Aug 2013: Efficient appliances could halve your emissions and save money


Useful Links

Renewable Energy Policy Network for 21st Century

Lots of downloadable presentations here: