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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tesla back in San Jose?

The unpredictable Tesla saga continues unabated.

The Merc and the Chronicle are reporting that Tesla will build the power-trains for its Model S sedan in the Bay Area. As the latter said:
"I can say, definitively, the power-train engineering will remain in the Bay Area," Musk said. "Silicon Valley has the best electrical engineers in the world, and I'm a big believer in keeping some of the production here in the Bay Area."
In September, Tesla announced plans to build a Model S factory in San Jose, and the next month postponed plans to make the Model S.

In January of 2009, it cancelled plans for the San Jose factory, while in March it said it planned to build its factory in a brownfield site in Los Angeles. Earlier this week, it unveiled the Model S for customers in its Menlo Park showroom.

It’s unclear what the next step in the saga will be — let alone the final outcome — but it seems very unlikely that Tesla will be driving a straight line from here to there.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Easy electricity to methane

Researchers at Penn State have found a bacterium that converts electricity and carbon dioxide into methane.

The article in the journal Environmental Science & Technology (summarized in New Scientist) focuses on its use for energy storage. As the abstract concludes:
These results show that electromethanogenesis can be used to convert electrical current produced from renewable energy sources (such as wind, solar, or biomass) into a biofuel (methane) as well as serving as a method for the capture of carbon dioxide.
The energy efficiency is about 80%, and the technology is considered attractive because of its simplicity. As New Scientist quotes one British scientist:
"If you have a windmill, say, you need a relatively simple way to store the energy. What I like about this method is it's simple, it's replicable and it's scalable."
While other approaches convert CO2 to hydrogen, methane (i.e. natural gas) is better suited to our existing infrastructure. If nothing else, CO2 from power plants could be used to make CNG for urban buses or home heating.

BTW, Penn State has historically had one of the most draconian IPR policies of any US university (what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine). So if this lends itself to commercialization, the university (let’s hope not the politicians in Harrisburg) could have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend.