News and Events February 29, 2012
DOE announced on February 23 that $3 million is available this year to support research to significantly lower the cost of solar energy. The Bridging Research Interactions through Collaborative Development Grants in Energy (BRIDGE) funding will enable collaborative research teams from industry, universities, and national laboratories to work together in DOE's research centers. The research teams will support the goal of DOE's SunShot Initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.
The BRIDGE funding will enable researchers to leverage the tools and expertise of scientists at DOE research facilities so that fundamental scientific discoveries can be rapidly transitioned to existing product lines and projects. The BRIDGE program is the first to provide engineers and scientists developing photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies with the tools and expertise of DOE's research facilities. Those will include major facilities for x-ray and neutron scattering, nanoscale science, advanced microcharacterization, environmental molecular sciences, and advanced scientific computing. This collaborative approach will accelerate innovations to lower the cost of photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies. Full applications are due May 21, 2012. See the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy progress alert, the Funding Opportunity Exchange Web page for details, and the SunShot Initiative website.
DOE announced on February 23 that eight of its national laboratories will participate in a pilot initiative to make it easier for private companies to use the laboratories' research capabilities. The participating labs are Ames, Brookhaven, Idaho, Lawrence Livermore, National Renewable Energy, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Savannah River national laboratories. The Agreements for Commercializing Technology (ACT) program will harness the United States' advantages in innovation to create jobs and accelerate the development of new clean energy technologies.
Previously, companies wishing to partner with the laboratories for commercial research had two options: signing a cooperative research and development agreement or a work-for-others agreement. The eight laboratories participating in this pilot program intend to offer a less constrained ACT option. Under an ACT, more flexibility will be available to negotiate the intellectual property rights for technologies created at a laboratory; there will also be more adaptability in other issues ranging from payment to project structures. The ACT agreements will also make it easier to develop multi-party partnerships. See the DOE press release and a list of frequently asked questions about the ACT option.
President Obama announced on February 23 new funding to catalyze breakthrough technologies for two alternative fuels, natural gas and biofuels. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renwable Energy will make $14 million available to support research and development into biofuels from algae. Also, through its Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA—E), DOE will make $30 million available for a new research competition that will engage scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to find ways to harness domestic natural gas for vehicles. The goal is to spur American innovation and encourage scientific breakthroughs that will help diversify the nation's energy portfolio, grow U.S. companies, and develop alternative vehicle technologies.
DOE will seek proposals from small businesses, universities, and national laboratories to modify existing facilities for long-term algae research and test new production processes that could lead to commercial biofuels made from algae. Awardees will establish and operate research "test beds" for algal biofuels that can facilitate development, test new approaches to algae production, and discover innovative ways to minimize the water and nutrients needed to mass produce algae for commercial biofuels. These advanced research projects will aim to significantly improve the sustainability of algae-based biofuels and accelerate technological breakthroughs. The awards represent the first phase in a total $30 million investment in algal biofuels in fiscal year 2012. Applications are due April 18. See the Funding Opportunity Exchange website for more information on the algal biofuels opportunity.
Also, ARPA-E intends to fund projects that will develop lightweight fuel tanks for cars that can run on natural gas and can fit into modern passenger vehicles. This approach includes developing affordable natural gas compressors that can efficiently fuel a natural gas vehicle at home. ARPA-E also seeks to fund projects that will develop absorbing materials that are able to hold gas, similar to how a sponge holds water. Such materials could lower pressure in vehicle tanks that hold and release natural gas, making them safer and more affordable for consumers. See the DOE press release and the Funding Opportunity Exchange website for more information on the ARPA-E natural gas opportunity.
The U.S. Army unveiled on February 22 a fleet of 16 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines in Hawaii are testing in an effort to research renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil. The zero-emission vehicles were funded by the Army Tank Automotive Research Development Engineering Center, Office of Naval Research, and Air Force Research Laboratories. The fuel cell vehicles, powered by renewable hydrogen, travel up to 200 miles on a single charge and refuel in five minutes.
The fleet of fuel cell vehicles is the latest effort of the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative, a partnership of 13 agencies, companies, and universities. The group is also testing hydrogen infrastructure elements so that other states can adopt a similar approach. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is providing technical and economic analysis of the vehicles. DOE has been funding the research and development of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, such as catalysts and membranes, over the last decade. Such technologies are enabling the deployment of fuel cell vehicles and stations like those in Hawaii. See the Army press release and DOE's Fuel Cell Technologies Program website.
The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released on February 16 the draft plan for the Restoration Design Energy Project. The initiative seeks to identify lands across Arizona most suitable for wind and solar power projects, with a focus on areas that are previously disturbed or have low natural and cultural resource conflicts. The project seeks to establish "renewable energy development areas" on lands that include former landfills, brownfields, mines, isolated BLM parcels, and canal rights-of-way that are part of the Central Arizona Project.
The draft environmental impact study (EIS) also proposes a baseline for environmental protection measures for facilities sited in these areas. The areas could be used for wind or solar projects, both utility-scale projects with more than 20 megawatts capacity and smaller distributed-scale development. The preferred alternative identified in the draft EIS calls for designating lands within five miles of utility corridors and existing transmission lines or near a point of power demand, such as a city, town or industrial area. And the draft EIS addresses water issues by instituting design features to avoid negative impacts to watersheds, groundwater supply, and water quality. The BLM manages about 237,100 acres in Arizona that meet these criteria. Public comments will be accepted until May 17, 2012. See the Interior Department press release and the Restoration Design Energy Project Web page.
New Ideas Spring from the SunShot Incubator
In order to hatch a new idea, solar startups often need a supportive environment to help them take their first steps on the path of introducing novel technologies into the marketplace. Over the past five years, DOE's SunShot Incubator program has invested in nearly 40 small businesses to help them get off the ground.
A $17.5 million investment in the seven companies that made it through the first round of the incubator program has gone on to attract more than $1.6 billion of private financing as the companies develop and manufacture innovative solar technologies. DOE announced on February 8 that it will provide $12 million for the next generation of solar-related technologies in the seventh round of the successful SunShot Incubator program. The goal of this funding opportunity is to support solar energy hardware advancements and soft cost reductions, and to pilot manufacturing projects. Read the complete story in DOE's Energy Blog.
Azerbaijan recently announced it has selected he Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project for the Italian pipeline option of the project to bring gas to Europe from the Shah Deniz II offshore field. The other competitors in the Southern gas corridor - the Turkey-Greece-Italy Interconnector (ITGI) in which DEPA is a shareholder, Nabucco and British Petroleum - hope to obtain the 10 billion cubic meters per year from the offshore Shah Deniz II field. A decision is expected in summer [more].
Harry Sachinis spoke to EurActiv Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
What is new with ITGI, the Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy project, since the recent news that the Shah Deniz II consortium has given its preference to a competitor, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) pipeline, for the offshore section to Italy?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to give you the information
from firsthand. Let me explain what the ITGI system is in general. It
includes also IGB -the interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, known as Stara
Zagora-Komotini - and then IGI which is the interconnector between
Greece and Italy. The idea is - in terms of timeline – IGI to be
completed in 2014 and for it to actually carry early Caspian gas before
the gas from Shah Deniz II becomes available, and also carry LNG gas
that would come from our Revithoussa LNG terminal in Greece. This is
very important because as we have seen from the press in the past couple
of months, the region has suffered a crisis of gas supply. The reasons
are the weather, but also because of other reasons like the fact that
this winter Turkey proved to be unreliable, as it stopped providing the
gas system in Greece.
And the interconnectors are independent from the bid for Shah Deniz?
Yes, because we are talking way before Shah Deniz II. Shah Deniz II
is going to have the first gas in 2018 but the area can’t wait for
solutions until then.
Now about Shah Deniz II. As we know there are four pipelines looking
for which way the gas from Shah Deniz II will go. One of these pipelines
is the IGI, part of the ITGI system. So the interconnection between
Greece and Italy ... can be ready before Shah Deniz II gas is available.
Because of commercial issues and one might say for negotiation tactics,
and because the suppliers have a share with TAP, they made a
provisional decision - those were the words they chose – to proceed with
But TAP does not have all the necessary licences and approvals for it
to be ready before the time that Shah Deniz II needs to make its final
investment decision. And that’s a key thing because if that project is
delayed because it doesn’t have the appropriate regulatory approvals,
licences and intergovernmental agreements in place that ITGI has, that
puts Shah Deniz II at risk of delay. So Shah Deniz II will have two
options. One is to go through the northern route [to Austria], or come
back to ITGI to actually resolve the commercial issues. And there is an
important difference between these two choices. I believe – and I think
this is shared by even the European Commission - that the link between
Greece and Italy is extremely important for the security of supply of
southeastern Europe, because in case of any disruptions for whatever
reasons, the fact that there is a pipeline connecting Greece to Italy
means that all of southeastern Europe can enjoy having this kind of
back-up because you can bring back from Italy - reverse flow – or even
from North Africa to Italy to Greece and to all southEastern Europe.
Yes but you can achieve this goal with TAP, it’s not only ITGI that provides this possibility.
You are absolutely right but you have to combine my two points. One
point is that TAP cannot be ready for Shah Deniz II to make the final
investing decision on time.
Are you offering your cooperation to join strengths with TAP?
I’m not going to comment on market speculation or what has been
written. But if one looks at the combination of commercial capabilities
and the strength of the routing and the approval that ITGI has, I think
you know one may seem how one can resolve commercial issues and
potentially also resolve all the timing issues and at the same time
killing three birds with one stone, resolving the issue of security and
supply in southeastern Europe.
The Commission has repeatedly said that many of the existing
projects should combine strengths. Are you going to get a stake with
TAP, what is your strategy?
One here has to take into account two things. TAP is a supplier
project and just for Shah Deniz II gas. Shah Deniz is not necessarily
the only supplier of gas into the area. I don’t want to say more about
this now, but there needs to be a balance between suppliers and buyers -
and maybe the combination of the commercial interest of the suppliers
and buyers, and also with the quickest opening with the southern
corridor based on the maturity of the ITGI projects based on the
licences and intergovernmental agreements. There is some interesting
space there, and as I said, combining that with another element that
cannot be missed - especially after what we went through in our region
for the last two months - the issue of security of supply. Because of
the unreliability of Turkey, you need to have a linkage between
southeastern Europe and Italy.
So you keep the cards close to your chest.
Wouldn’t you? [Laughter]
Look, as you can understand we are in the middle of a real game, a
real negotiation and I'm not referring only to ITGI but to everybody -
Nabucco, TAP, Shah Deniz II, whoever else is involved in bringing new
gas sources into Europe. I think that this big negotiation that is
moving to the most interesting time.
Is the fact that DEPA is one of the Greek [government] assets
earmarked for privatisation, has it impacted of the decision of the
Azerbaijani authorities to pick up the TAP option?
In terms of making their provisional decision, obviously having that
uncertainty was an issue. But by far the key issue for the suppliers was
the commercial issue, in terms of making more money for their gas. But
in terms of DEPA, I should tell you that it has been doing extremely
We are having a second year of record profits that are going to be
announced in a few days - officially. All the sectors of the group are
performing extremely well, both the conventional companies, the
distribution companies, pipeline company, everyone had a stellar year
and were very pleased to report that. The indications are that there are
some 20 very good companies interested in DEPA, also because it has a
very strategic location. So I think this is going to be very interesting
but of course there is the uncertainty of who is going to come.
Should Gazprom bid for DEPA? Are they allowed to bid?
Yes, they are free to bid. But I think the people who will bid the
most interested in DEPA and who put the most money in, are people who
actually see the opportunity to bring new gas into the market.
What is the time horizon for the privatisation?
This week the call of interest is going to be published.