Nature to the Grid: Bioenergy

The leaf is the primary site of photosynthesis...
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is a loaded word with many different meanings and ideas associated with it. I’m wondering what concept will bring it all together?

From a production () standpoint, you’ve got solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, hydro, and ethanol. And with consumption, you have to ask how are we going to create products, how are we going to deal with waste, and where are we going to get our food and water?

When you start looking at all these variables, you seem to get to the root of the sustainability problem… it’s very fragmented. There needs to be a new holistic approach that attacks the whole issue. Where do we get our energy, our food, and a new paradigm for products and waste? To us, the answer is quite clear… it’s found in nature, where the essence is growth. our food, our energy, our resources. It’s all about growth energy… bioenergy.

Currently, the word ‘bioenergy’ is somewhat limited so I’m going to define how it’s currently perceived and then go into how its meaning has the ability to grow itself.

Right now, bioenergy means the act of using organic waste products and/or algae and other microorganisms to create ethanol fuel or some other type of crude oil replacement. The company leading the way is Coskata, backed by legendary Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla. It was recently voted Hottest Company in Bioenergy. They are doing some incredibly innovative stuff, and claim to be able to produce ethanol for less than $1/gallon with their hybrid gasification and fermentation system. As Khosla says, he is a pragmentalist, not an environmentalist, and his company is surely capitalizing on the growing market for ethanol fuel. Yet, you have to believe that although ethanol burns much cleaner than gasoline, it is only a short term fix… it’s almost like putting a band-aid on a cut that needs stitches. More so, with an electric car infrastructure on the horizon, doesn’t it seem ethanol may not even be a part of our future?

This leads us to our broader concept of bioenergy. The grapethinkers are obviously inspired by nature and have always found photosynthesis fascinating. The method by which the chlorophyll molecule uses sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to create energy in the form of glucose and oxygen, ultimately the components that power nature and our own bodies. Some incredible scientists at , one of which (Dan Nocera) I was fortunate enough to meet at the World Science Festival in NYC last May, are currently all over this and have invented a contraption that mimicks photosynthesis. The device uses sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, which can be stored in the form of hydrogen fuel. This is ground breaking because it makes , more specifically photosynthesis, seem to be the sustainability solution. Right now, solar cells are completely reliant on silicon (and a few other innovations), making them cost ineffective due to the price of materials, and more so because of the inefficiency of the PV cell in converting sunlight to energy and having the capacity to store this energy. By incorporating these new photosynthetic systems into solar panels, homes and office buildings will be able to generate power for their operation during the day and store excess energy in the form of hydrogen fuel in an on-site fuel cell, which can then be used at night for normal usage and electric vehicle recharging.

If you install these photosynthetic solar cells into buildings, use biodegradable innovations like Ecovative Design’s products, and start the process of urban farming, we will begin to grow our homes and buildings into living, breathing, self-sustaining bio-towers that produce enough energy, food, and other bio-materials to supply the inhabitants of that location as well as excess to send/sell back to the grid. With this, we will truly start to model the growth of nature.

Maybe if we can succeed in incorporating this paradigm shift into the way we produce our materials, food, and energy, then the mindset can move into the public mentality. Then we can grow our minds and our relationships and our businesses. Organic growth opposed to the fundamental mindset of immediate gratification and synthesis that has manifested itself in Big Pharma, Big Oil, and all the big consumer product companies. A whole new perception of bioenergy.

I’ll expand more on renewable homes, urban farming/biotowers, bio-materials as well as the ‘growth’ theory in future posts. It comes down to developing a symbiotic relationship with nature and embracing what has evolved over billions of years as inspiration for an ecolistic world.

Nature to the grid!

Nature to the Grid: Renewable Homes

Nature to the Grid: Urban Farming

 

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Posted in Energy, Environment, Sustainable, Technology | 12 Comments »

  • fermenter

    really nice read… however, you say that photosynthesis is the one magic concept. I find it ironic with you being grapethinkers and all, because you seemed to have overlooked fermentation? they’re currently working on microbial fuel cells that use microorganisms to ferment waste into hydogren fuel. http://live.psu.edu/story/11709

    seems like Coskata has a handle on the whole process with gasifying organic waste and then fermenting it into ethanol. with innovation they could certainly start fermenting hydrogen fuel in a similar sense as the MIT guys… but for now they are working with ethanol for cars bc that’s the market opportunity and electric car grid is at least 10 years away

  • fermenter

    really nice read… however, you say that photosynthesis is the one magic concept. I find it ironic with you being grapethinkers and all, because you seemed to have overlooked fermentation? they’re currently working on microbial fuel cells that use microorganisms to ferment waste into hydogren fuel. http://live.psu.edu/story/11709

    seems like Coskata has a handle on the whole process with gasifying organic waste and then fermenting it into ethanol. with innovation they could certainly start fermenting hydrogen fuel in a similar sense as the MIT guys… but for now they are working with ethanol for cars bc that’s the market opportunity and electric car grid is at least 10 years away

  • http://tastevine.com Greg

    That’s really interesting. Maybe we can all ferment our own wine in the basement and power our homes off that! I also like your points about Coskata, they’ll have to come up with some type of consumer appliance for homes to turn organic waste into storable fuel. Also, check out http://gridpoint.com — doing some very cool stuff with smart grid solutions. Part of their package is an energy storage device for homes that stores energy during hrs when energy is low cost, so that during primetime (when everyone gets home from work) when the cost of energy is higher, homes can cut off the supply from the grid and use what they’ve stored in their Gridpoint device.

  • http://tastevine.com Greg

    That’s really interesting. Maybe we can all ferment our own wine in the basement and power our homes off that! I also like your points about Coskata, they’ll have to come up with some type of consumer appliance for homes to turn organic waste into storable fuel. Also, check out http://gridpoint.com — doing some very cool stuff with smart grid solutions. Part of their package is an energy storage device for homes that stores energy during hrs when energy is low cost, so that during primetime (when everyone gets home from work) when the cost of energy is higher, homes can cut off the supply from the grid and use what they’ve stored in their Gridpoint device.

  • http://blog.valcent.net Jessica Brock

    Alternative energy sources are imperative to the sustainability of our economies future! Please come and visit Valcent to see what we’re doing in efforts to promote algae biofuel. Come and see our commercial sized unit producing algae and turning into a valuable alternative energy source!
    http://blog.valcent.net
    Jessica Brock
    Valcent

  • http://blog.valcent.net Jessica Brock

    Alternative energy sources are imperative to the sustainability of our economies future! Please come and visit Valcent to see what we’re doing in efforts to promote algae biofuel. Come and see our commercial sized unit producing algae and turning into a valuable alternative energy source!
    http://blog.valcent.net
    Jessica Brock
    Valcent

  • http://grapethinking.com Greg

    Great company, and i love your posts on vertical/urban agriculture… algae seems to have incredible significance and potential in the world…. creating biofuels, cleaning up CO2, merging with solar to create photosynthetic solar cells… i’ve always been fascinated with algae and mycelium (fungus) as the planet’s cleaning crew… ever heard of lichen? it’s a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus, in which algae provides food through photosynthesis, and the fungus provides structure… lichen grown in the most extreme desolate places on earth and are thought to be possibly the oldest living organism on the planet… not sure its significance in creating energy/cleaning up the planet, but seems like something is there

  • http://grapethinking.com Greg

    Great company, and i love your posts on vertical/urban agriculture… algae seems to have incredible significance and potential in the world…. creating biofuels, cleaning up CO2, merging with solar to create photosynthetic solar cells… i’ve always been fascinated with algae and mycelium (fungus) as the planet’s cleaning crew… ever heard of lichen? it’s a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus, in which algae provides food through photosynthesis, and the fungus provides structure… lichen grown in the most extreme desolate places on earth and are thought to be possibly the oldest living organism on the planet… not sure its significance in creating energy/cleaning up the planet, but seems like something is there

  • http://tastevine.com Greg
  • http://tastevine.com Greg

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