Clean energy gets innovative

I have stumbled across a few developments in the sustainability world recently that should provide Australian start-ups with food for thought.


Firstly, the recycling of old refrigerators – not just metal and the plastic are separated and recycled,  but 99.8% of the coolant is extracted and destroyed rather than being released into the atmosphere.


Coolant has a very high global warming potential that is up to 3,800 times that of carbon dioxide, which means releasing 1kg of coolant is like releasing 3.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide.


A plant in Philadelphia dismantles a fridge in 60 seconds leaving neat piles of plastic, metal and insulation foam.


The system cost about $5.5 million and can dismantle about 150,000 fridges per year.


As part of the “less reliance on non-domestic fuels sourced from highly volatile global locations” program the US Congress has set quotas for the amount of cellulosic fuel to be consumed.


As a result the Pentagon is encouraging the US Navy and Air Force to use biofuels, which is leading to a range of partnerships between government agencies and commercial entities to produce high quality biofuels that don’t impact on food crops.


One of these is a biofuel made from a plant called Camelina, a plant that can be grown on fallow wheat fields and is generally regarded as a weed.


The US Air Force has approved F-15 and F-16 fighters and C-17 transport planes to use 50% biofuel and the US Navy plans to approve all its planes and surface ships to run on biofuel by the end of the autumn.


Small amounts of biofuel being produced cost around 10 times that of normal fuels but it’s believed that if such a process is scaled up considerably it can be cost competitive.


An interesting development from a company in Georgia is a method of making fuel out of wood.


Wood is mostly cellulose, which is a very complex carbohydrate and can only be broken down into simple sugars by grazing animals and the process is not very efficient.


Renmatix has discovered a way to break down wood fibres by using water compressed and heated to very high temperatures, known as supercritical steam.


Other companies have done that by relying on chemicals and expensive enzymes to make the conversion but Renmatix uses only supercritical water.


The supply of this type of biomass is much larger than traditional biofuel crops such as corn or soy and it does not displace food crops.


All of these examples show that there a great deal of entrepreneurial innovation in the green energy space and that governments around the world are beginning to recognise and reward businesses that provide an alternative to fossil fuels.


Will your start-up be part of this new generation, or will you be left behind?


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