New Solar-Powered Recyclable Wastewater Treatment Device Emerges

By: Yang Yan

One of the most important challenges in the modern world is to develop efficient methods to control environmental pollution. In the case of purifying wastewater, especially for the sanitary wastewater with low-concentration pollutant, there has recently been progress in making a solar-powered, recyclable and household device.

Water and wastewater facilities often make up the largest portion of a community's energy bill, accounting for up to 35% of typical US municipal energy budgets. [1] Because energy is required for all stages in the water treatment process, operating water and wastewater plants is very energy intensive and often expensive.

Heterogeneous photocatalysis technology was traditionally regarded as an efficient method for purification of wastewater in most cases. [2] However, when it comes to practical application, the single photocatalyst cannot efficiently purify wastewater without sunlight irradiation. In addition, as large amounts of wastewater may pass through the device so quickly that the catalysts may not have enough time to fully decompose the hazardous materials.

In light of this, a research group has come up with an innovative idea [3] – using commonly-seen activated carbon (AC) as a reservoir for the hazardous martials. It works as follows:

1.      The device is installed in the drain tube

2.      As wastewater flows through the device, the activated carbon absorbs hazardous materials

3.      Every 20-30 days, the user takes out the device and expose it to sunlight

4.      Sunlight and photocatalyst together decomposes the hazardous material into CO2 and water

5.      The user put the device back to the drain as if it were new

This simple, energy-free way of treating wastewater is a lot of advantages and can be useful in various ways:

1.      It requires no energy, so it can be used in rural and developing areas where electricity is not readily available

2.      The treatment process is spread into millions of households, so there is no need for large treatment plants which can be an economical burden and health threat to the city.

3.      All the materials used in the device is cheap, easy to make and non-toxic.

Of course, at present, this is just a prototype and unavailable for mass production. The research group’s sample device only retains 23% adsorption capacity after 4 runs 48 % that of photocatalyst (Figure 1). Still, this idea is promising and worth further researching.


[2] Hoffmann M R, Martin S T, Choi W, et al. Environmental applications of semiconductor photocatalysis[J]. Chemical reviews, 1995, 95(1): 69-96.

[3] Yan Yang, Lu Wenjie. Combined Technology of Adsorption and Photocatalysis for the Purification of Wastewater. 2017.

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Figure 1. Long term adsorption and photocatalysis experiments [3] (Lower bars means better performance)

Solar Powered Irrigation

By: Akaash Padmanabha

Solar powered irrigation pumping is an easy concept to understand: use energy from the sun to directly facilitate irrigation. The way this mechanism works is simply by streamlining the conversion of sunlight to energy necessary for pumping water. This mode of irrigation has applications ranging from households, businesses, and agriculture, just to name a big few, and empirically cuts irrigation bills by half while cutting carbon emissions by almost 90%

Necessity for this kind of technology is widely present. As several studies have shown, the access towater for agricultural purposes remains critical in some areas such as in arid regions of Africa and Southern Asia. Many Indian and African farmers fetch the water directly from the well or the rivers and irrigate their fields using buckets. The AgWater Solutions Project shows that, if farmers of those regions could have access to a motorized pump, they would increase their yield by 300%. Furthermore, electricity to pump water is one of the highest costs the rural water management associations incur, so efficient irrigation via solar power is an initiative worth taking. Even without the brand of renewable energy trends, solar power is very applicable in the world of irrigation in its innate feedback loop: more sunlight equals more energy for irrigation but also means that crops likely require more water.

Look to Costa Rica for precedence in the agricultural sector, which can be seen as a large foundation to all countries, regardless of economic status. According to The Tico Times, “more than 4,000 people in eight rural communities in Nicoya and the Isla de Chira, Costa Rica,” are now using solar powered water distribution systems. This project financed by the Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA) installed 124 solar panels to help rural water management associations reduce their electrical costs, citing universal access to potable water as their ultimate goal. 

If the technology is already implemented and working, why is it relevant? To answer this, let’s look towards some ongoing projects. In Guanacaste, Costa Rica, “the Arenal Tempisque Irrigation District (DRAT) generates between $150 and $200 million to Costa Rica annually. The Project´s new works will increase the irrigation areas, will double the number of agricultural producers benefited and will improve water use efficiency”, said Patricia Quiros, Manager of the National Service of Groundwater, Irrigation and Drainage Service (SENARA).

And in Bangladesh, the World Bank quantifies that “about 300 pumps are in operation benefitting more than 8,000 farmers.” With the country’s flat terrain and abundant sunlight, solar powered irrigation has not only dropped their irrigation bill by half, but these low maintenance pumps are improving the quality of life for the farmers. They have no moving parts and function without noise or pollution, and the ease of installation allows the technology to expand its reach at a rapid pace. The World Bank is supporting the government’s effort to install 1,250 solar-powered irrigation pumps by 2018, at which point the country will be able to reduce 5,000 tons of carbon emissions per year.

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The Auto Industry’s Rising Tide of Electrification

By: Rohin Shivdasani

“Accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” For over a decade, these words have kept the workforce and chief executive of Tesla Motors grounded in a dogged sense of purpose. Despite current skepticisms about the company’s financials, valuation, and production capabilities, only one reality remains: Tesla worked.

A decade ago, major car companies tended to view electric cars only as feel-good science projects. Research and development initiatives for EV programs were managed accordingly, being afforded minimal to no resources in many cases. Now, as auto manufactures realize the existential risk posed by electric vehicles, the way forward has become clear.  The largest 10 car companies around the globe, Toyota, Volkswagen, Daimler AG, BMW, Honda, GM, Tesla, Ford, Nissan, and Fiat, have each invested more than 10 billion dollars in extensive near-term electrification programs. As these companies try to establish themselves in this rapidly expanding space, the industry seems to be welcoming the electric car sooner rather than later, which is all that the founding members of Tesla could have hoped for. Now though, the Model S, X and 3 will soon be up against real competition. Here is a small snapshot of what to expect in the coming years.


 With the release of the Prius in 1997, Toyota has been a leader in hybrid technology for 22 years, placing the world’s largest auto manufacturer in a ready position to have an electric motor in every car they sell by 2025, per a 2018 announcement. While this commitment only promises a combination of all electric and hybrid vehicles, it will prove to be a massive step in advancing the industries, chiefly lithium ion battery production and new battery research, that will enable global adoption of EVs.


Volkswagen executives have been touting the company’s new EV architecture platform which is being called MEB. With this platform, VW plans to have 27 electric cars for sale by 2022, one of the more ambitious timelines to be announced thus far. With a focus on affordability and practicality, VW projects the sale of 100,000 “ID hatchbacks” and 50,000 additional electric cars by 2020 alone. With fast charging – up to 80% in a half hour – and ranges of about 250 miles, these sales estimates may not be so far removed from reality, and would be an exciting step forward in the democratization of  EVs.

Daimler AG

Better known as the maker of Mercedes Benz, Daimler AG plans for a differentiated range of ten all electric cars to be available for purchase by 2022. Following suit with Toyota and others, Daimler also will also offer an electric version of every Mercedes Benz model, which comes out to 50 electrified vehicles overall. The German auto giant isn’t completely forsaking combustion however. Daimler sees its future lineup as a three-way portfolio of high tech combustion engines, hybrids, and all electric.


Known for the i8 sports car and smaller i3 hatchback, BMW has been a leader in demonstrating the feasibility of the electric car. BMW’s corporate strategy dubbed “Number One” relies heavily on electrification. By 2021, the i3 will share the company of 4 more EV’s, the MINI Electric, the iX3, the i4 and the iNEXT. However, the number of EV’s BMW has officially planned between now and 2025 is “at least twelve,” which could end up being significantly less than competitors.


General Motors has not been shy in terms of getting involved with the EV space in the past. Many of us remember when the Chevy Volt, now the best selling plug-in electric car of all time in the U.S, came out alongside the Nissan Leaf in 2010. Now, Chevrolet is moving forward with its new all electric car, the Bolt EV. GM continues to make steady progress adding to an electric portfolio, planning two more electric cars built on the same platform as the Bolt EV by 2020, and at least eighteen more EV’s on an entirely new platform in the following five years. Having already experienced the expensive and technologically complicated world of bringing electric cars to market, GM is focused on developing its new platform for EV’s to be profitable quickly.

Despite the industry’s high voltage ambitions, earth’s active car population sits at around 1.5 billion, with only approximately 85 million new cars sold annually. Even if car sales were to become 100 percent electric, it would take decades to replace all gas cars currently on the roads. Nonetheless, who knows how far off the widespread adoption of EVs would have been were it not for, from a mission success standpoint, an extremely successful company in Tesla Motors.

The Green New Deal and its Exclusion of Nuclear Energy

By: Gregory Glova

The Green New Deal proposed by Congresspeople such as rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, while encouraging in the fight against climate change, could actually be more flash than substance. Their vision of the Green New Deal threatens to actually increase emissions and increase the cost of energy which could have far-reaching impacts of disenfranchising the clean energy movement. The primary issue with their vision of the green transition is the exclusion of nuclear energy, as they desire to phase it along with fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is the largest, most consistent form of zero-emission energy and attempting to replace it with solar and wind energy is and has proven to be expensive and ineffective.

First, wind and solar energy are still reliant on production and deployment subsidies. With a decline in federal clean tech spending, many of these green industries could be poised for bankruptcies and market contractions. Furthermore, even though wind and solar energy are always promised to become cheaper with widespread implementation, in practice they always drive up costs of electricity which slows economic growth and drives down wages. This rise in costs is due to the simple fact that wind and solar are unreliable; they require extensive infrastructure to implement since they require back up energy sources which are usually fossil fuels. Furthermore, clean energy jobs are often temporary and low-skill, they involve setting up the turbines or panels and then simple maintenance. Meanwhile, nuclear energy has proven time and time again to be much cheaper every time its implemented, and the jobs it provides are sustained, high-skill, and high-paying.

These are points are illustrated in Germany’s valiant but ultimately failed attempt to smoothly transition to renewables. Germany spent 580 billion dollars on wind and solar energy, yet its emission have not decreased for a decade. Furthermore, the cost of electricity in Germany is the second highest in Europe. This is a trend repeated in the U.S., where states investing the most in wind and solar have seen their electricity costs skyrocket. An analysis by Environmental Progress found that if Germany had spent the 580 billion dollars on nuclear energy, it would have been enough to completely phase out fossil fuels in both its electricity and transportation sector. Similarly, if California had invested in 100 billion dollars in nuclear energy as opposed to wind and solar, it would have already replaced all of its fossil fuel plants.

It's important to note that the two nations who have successfully transitioned from Fossil Fuel: France and Sweden, have utilized Nuclear energy. In a rapidly warming world, a nuclear energy push is the most timely solution to cut emissions in a sustainable way without economic harm. While the problems facing solar and wind are by no means impossible to overcome, they are significant enough to prevent their rapid and effective adoption. Thus, for now, they should be seen as supplements to nuclear energy, with their time for widespread adoption coming in the further future.

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Energy Use: the Social Forces at Play

 By: Emma O’Neil

U.S. Reports have highlighted the devastating effects of climate change on the U.S. economy, communities, water, tourism, infrastructure, agriculture, and health.  Based on the fourth national climate assessment, rising temperatures are taking a toll on regional economies and industries dependent on natural resources.  Climate change is expected to impact import and export prices and businesses with overseas operations and supply chains.  With the continued expansion of emissions, losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of this century, not to mention all the damage to human health, ecosystems, and global stability (1).  It is evident that a significant reduction in energy consumption is necessary to meet temperature thresholds. 

            Considering this imperative, research in the social sciences has revealed a way of aiding consumers in working towards this goal.  That is, whether you think your neighbors care about energy conservation is a significant source of motivation for reducing energy consumption.  This influence has been illustrated to actually play a greater role in consumer actions than the role of one’s personal beliefs about climate change (2).

            Opower is one utility provider with a flagship product called the Home Energy Report (HER).  It allows residential energy customers to see not only their energy use but also the energy use of their neighbors (3).  Specifically, it consists of three graphs, illustrating how much energy the customer is consuming, how much energy efficient neighbors are consuming, and how much energy all neighbors consume.  With the implementation of the intervention in different regions and with new utility companies, the provider conducts randomized controlled trials to better understand the effect of HER on energy customers.  However, the average reduction in energy usage for households with HER varies significantly (4). 

            In effect, HER displays a norm, a social means of pressure for individual energy consumption.  The product follows from many social science research studies that have shown that people seek to emulate their peers.  Yet, this social motivation undoubtedly varies.  Researchers including Jon M. Jachimowicz and Oliver Hauser have examined this variation and found that what matters more than individual attitudes is whether we believe our own neighbors understand the reduction of energy use as an important means of limiting environmental destruction.  HER has a greater influence on individual energy use when one believes that his or her neighbors actually care about saving energy in order to save the environment (5).

            Furthermore, our understanding of why others act the way they do drives our behavior just as much, if not more, than personal beliefs.  The implications of this behavioral research are immense, as we may now understand a key to change in human behavior.  We must not only focus on individual beliefs but also gain insight into what people think those around them believe.  As social creatures, we want to know how those around us think, a conclusion of behavioral science that is already sparking new experimental practices in the energy sector and inspiring new approaches to address national energy consumption








Flaws in Economic Models of climate change do not alter the viability of a Carbon Tax Policy

By: Tommy Drenis

This past July, the House of Representatives passed a new resolution on carbon taxes, in which the general consensus of House members on an issue is expressed. In this case, members voted 229-180 in favor of a resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy” [1]. Following the decision by President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Accord in 2017, this vote represents continued sentiment by America’s elected officials that the economic effects of climate change do not eclipse those of a carbon tax policy.

Such political beliefs are not novel in the U.S. and have existed in the majority for a great period of time. Since the 1970s, in an attempt to reverse these beliefs, economists such as William Nordhaus have developed models of the economic effects of climate change, collectively referred to as integrated assessment models. In helping to begin these efforts, Nordhaus was recently awarded with the Nobel Prize in Economics [2].

More specifically, these models attempt to estimate the social cost of carbon, which is essentially the external cost of carbon emissions that society realizes in the form of climate change. However, such estimates of the social cost of carbon are very rough, based on many assumptions and uncertainties about the relationships between carbon emissions and temperature change, temperature change and economic effects, etc. [3]. As a result, even the Nobel Prize committee acknowledged that the integrated assessment models developed by Nordhaus cannot eliminate the uncertainty surrounding “the economic and human damages caused by climate change” [2].

The fact that these models are built on many assumptions and uncertainties builds the basis for the arguments that critics of carbon taxes propose. In the eyes of many, since these models cannot provide accurate estimates of the social cost of carbon without flaw, the economic basis for carbon taxes cannot be made.

 However, what these models clearly show is that carbon emissions do provide an external cost to society. While limited experimental data at the moment makes accurately identifying the social cost of carbon very difficult, it is obvious that such a cost does exist. As a result, the fact that there are flaws in estimating the exact social cost of carbon does not draw away from the fact that this cost is present.

Furthermore, the actual economic impact of a carbon tax policy is negligible. In fact, a very expensive $50 carbon tax rising by 5% every year was found to only deter U.S. GDP growth by 0.1% per year [4]. As a result, given that we know that carbon emissions create an external cost on society, and that the impact of carbon taxes is negligible, the disadvantages of not creating a carbon tax are much greater than implementing one.

For example, if the impact of climate change on the economy is much smaller than current rough estimates forecast, little cost to the economy will be endured with a carbon tax policy. However, if these current predictions greatly underestimate the extensive economic damage that climate change may cause, a carbon tax policy will be seen as both beneficial and necessary.

Whichever scenario the future holds, the greater downside that exists of not creating a carbon tax in the present is obvious. Therefore, the fact the economic models cannot accurately predict the exact cost of climate change on the economy is of little relevancy to the debate regarding a carbon tax policy.

At the moment, the U.S. is one of an increasingly small group of developed nations to have not yet implemented carbon taxes. With the U.S. producing around 16% of the world’s carbon emissions as of 2015, it is imperative that the decision is made to join the United Kingdom, France and others in levying a carbon tax [5].

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A look at Recent M&A Activity In Renewable Energy Start-Ups and the Regulatory Environment that supports it

By: Adbi Adan

When we think about the role renewable energy plays in our lives we rarely think about large companies. Our main focus on leading a greener life consists of turning off the lights, taking shorter showers and using public transportation. On the larger scale huge mergers and acquisitions of startups in the renewable energy space are proving to be a huge driver of the acceptance and adoptions of renewable in the business atmosphere. These acquisitions also serve as a way some of these companies can hedge their bets and go further into renewables.

One recent acquisition that made waves in the startup world was Google’s acquisition of Nest Labs LLC. Nest is famous for their Nest thermostat, a thermostat that utilizes technology to limit waste and distribute heat or air conditioning effectively. This acquisition costed Google 3.2 Billion dollars. Many have speculated Google’s acquisition of Nest is a bold into the energy space. Google also this year reached its goal of becoming a 100% renewable run company. Google is making bold moves into the energy space and it just shows that these big companies view the energy market as a market they have to be in. Another tech company that is expanding its reach more aggressively in the renewable energy space is Tesla. Tesla currently is investing heavily in their electric vehicles, both cars and trucks, to solar roofing. A lot of this is coming from Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk. Musk also invested heavily in SolarCity another subsidiary of Tesla focused on drastically reducing the cost of solar panels.

Lately valuations for energy companies has been growing exponentially. Just last year the average Series A round for a clean energy company was 7 million up 2 million from 2015. Many venture capitalist are taking a long bet on an assortment of clean tech companies, but still are a bit hesitant. It’s widely acknowledged that renewable energy is the future, but for VCs this area is still surrounded by a lot of uncertainty, particularly around regulation. Regulation around energy policy in the past few years has been extremely volatile. With the span of a few a few years the United States went from setting higher fuel standards for cars to pulling out of the Paris Climate agreement. This vast change is what some say is driving away institutional capital from investing more heavily in clean tech start-ups.

When we think about the role start-ups are going to play in ushering in the new wave of renewable energy it is pivotal we create a regulatory environment that not only fosters growth, but also protects nature. The current problem with regulation in the energy space is that either it’s too extreme or too lax. This type of regulation in no way will help start up reach the scale needed to tackle the climate change crisis our generation is currently facing. Cleantech startups possess a skill that has the ability to impact not just our energy consumption, but how we interact with energy all together.

Fuel Cell Technology Advancement

By: Yang Yan

    Fuel cell (FC) is an electrochemical device that can directly convert the chemical energy of hydrogen, natural gas, methanol and other fuels into electricity. In addition to its applications in new energy vehicles such as Toyota Mirai, the fuel cell train manufactured by Alstom has entered commercial operation in Germany in September 2018. Depending on the material used and operating temperature, FCs can be divided into several types. A comparison of major classifications is shown in Table 1.

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Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) are one of the main focuses in FC research. In 2010, Bloom Energy Inc. (NYSE: BE) in the US introduced an SOFC mini-power station that will provide US households with low-cost and environmentally-friendly power 24/7. The company is now the SOFC provider for Google, Walmart, FedEx, AT&T, Panasonic and many more fortune 500s. In 2017, Kyocera Japan Ltd. (OTCMKTS: KYOCY) introduced the first commercial 3 kW SOFC system. The system achieves a standalone efficiency of 52% and, through waste heat cycle, the overall system efficiency can reach 90%. The system integrates four small stacks with a power of 700 W and can deliver 3 kW of power externally.

Figure 1 SOFC system outside of Macy’s store

Figure 1 SOFC system outside of Macy’s store

SOFC has many unique advantages. At present, SOFC has application prospects in large, medium and small distributed power stations, portable power bank, military, aerospace and other fields. Significant advantages are:

1. High efficiency. The power efficiency can reach more than 60%; with waste heat and gas turbine combined use, the total efficiency can reach up to 90% or more;

2. Reliability. achieves operating times more than 90% and power available more than 99.99% of the time. This is the main reason why computer facilities, call centers, data processing centers and high technology manufacturing facilities choose SOFC:

3. All-solid-state structure, leading to easy assemble and cell amplification;

4. Use of common, low-cost catalysts, which can effectively control manufacturing costs;

5. A wide range of fuel options; In addition to the use of hydrogen, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, ethanol and even biological waste gas could be used. This is useful in waste treatment plants, as the cell can convert biomass gases to electricity with minimal environment impact.

6. Low cell noise, less pollutant emissions; This is useful in urban areas, industrial facilities, airports, and zones with strict emissions standards.

7. Long cell life, up to 10 years.

Given that SOFCs can directly use hydrocarbons as fuel, its large-scale application can promote the efficient and clean utilization of coal, natural gas and biomass.

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