Fall in the United States is known for the colors in New England, as trees turn to the warm shades of autumn before dropping their leaves. That sort of change historically wasn’t common here California, where our forests are mostly evergreen pine trees. At least, that used to be true–but not anymore.
Thanks to drought and climate change, there are now 66 million dead trees in California, a number that may triple by year’s end. That’s almost one million linear miles of dead biomass, enough to stretch to the moon and back twice. But, when combined with a forward thinking energy policy, this crisis is also creating an unique opportunity to solve the twin challenges of affordable renewable energy and climate change at the same time. APL’s Tom Price just published this Medium post that outlines what’s at risk, and how APL’s gasification solution could save not only California, but the whole planet.
If after reading this piece you’re interested in seeing the new 150kW Powertainer in person, please see below for an upcoming event at our Berkeley factory.
More APL news:
National Science Foundation awards All Power Labs $225,000 grant to develop next-generation reactor.
Last month, APL was awarded a prestigious $225,000 Phase 1 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, to support our research and development of our next generation gasifier reactor. Specifically, this grant “enables the research and development of a new hybrid fixed-fluidized biomass gasifier design that allows for a higher carbon conversion efficiency over a far wider range of feed stocks than what current commercially available biomass-to-electricity technologies are able to offer.” APL’s Dr. Jay Hasty will be the Principal Investigator leading the team doing this important work.
APL powers events across Silicon Valley and beyond, spreading the word about “energy for productive use.”
This summer APL presented at (and powered!) several high profile events, all focused on reinforcing a perspective that’s gaining traction in the global renewable energy community: We need to provide more than just lighting; true energy access means energy for productive use. That kind of high amperage power, to enable value adding activities like running machinery, is something off-grid solar can’t provide, but it’s an ideal use for compact biomass gasification gensets.
In June we presented these ideas at the Clean Energy Ministerial in San Francisco, the implementation-focused follow up to the COP21 Climate Accords in Paris last December, at which APL also presented. That makes APL the only company in the world to exhibit carbon-negative technology at both events.
We then flew over to Hawaii to help power a microgrid running the first VERGE Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit, getting help from Governor David Ige to refill a Power Pallet operating on locally-sourced macadamia nut shells.
We then powered the dining tents during the Social Capital Markets SOCAP conference in San Francisco, and went straight from there to Santa Clara, the heart of Silicon Valley, helping power the microgrid at the VERGE conference and participating in their startup showcase. We wrapped up our tour at the International Off Grid Renewable Energy Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, contributing to the “Emerging technology solutions for off-grid renewable energy systems” session, and are now home getting ready for our biggest event of the year–unveiling our new Powertainer.
Powertainer demonstration coming this fall
APL is preparing to publicly unveil our new 150kW Powertainer, designed to help address forestry waste management as well as clean energy and climate solution needs. If you are interested in the Powertainer and attending our upcoming live demonstration, please let us know. Space is limited, so email your interest to email@example.com with the words “Powertainer Demo” in the subject line, so we can hold a spot for you and let you know event details.
You’re invited: Creating an Ecosystem for a Carbon Balanced Planet, October 18th in San Francisco
Join Nancy Pfund of DBL Partners, Jim Mason of APL, and Noah Dietch of the Center for Carbon Removal for an interactive workshop that brings together leaders from across disciplines to create tangible projects for the development of innovative carbon solutions. This workshop will explore how Bay Area business, policy, and NGO leaders can partner with local carbon removal solution developers. Workshop attendees will participate in a design charrette with the goal of identifying measurable projects. Together we will advance the development of a carbon balanced planet. More details and registration info here.
Two years in the field and counting — APL technology passes key new product milestone
As world leaders gather in New York this week to celebrate Earth Day, and to sign the COP21 Paris Climate Accords, here at APL we’ve been doing some celebrating of our own.
If you have been in the renewable energy field for a while, you know that new technologies don’t come along that often, and rarer still are the ones that pass two years of service in the field.
That is why we’re so pleased to announce that our v5 Power Pallets have just done exactly that. For two years now, even through the Ebola crisis, the BWI Renewable Energy Center in Kakata, Liberia has been making free energy for their school from biomass (in their case using expired rubber tree chips as fuel) via three of our Power Pallets.
To celebrate this key product validation milestone, last month we held an Open House at BWI. Our local staff showed off their work to local dignitaries, NGOs, and business leaders, and as a result of their successes negotiations are now underway to expand the project.
This project was originally sponsored by USAID and organized by EcoPower Liberia. Since then, we’ve been managing the facility’s operations and using BWI for an intensive R&D facility, intentionally running parts to failure in the toughest conditions we could manage.
We’ve learned a lot over the last few years and have integrated that knowledge into everything we do here in Berkeley. Congratulations to everyone on the APL Liberia team for your successes– you’re proving every day just how valuable energy from biomass can be.
When “renewables” aren’t renewable- tough choices ahead for policy planners
Last week the New York Times published a story about the impact of climate change on hydropower in Zambia. It highlights a topic that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, namely how a changing climate can affect the production of renewable energy.
As our weather changes, there will be times the sun doesn’t shine, the wind doesn’t blow, and the rain doesn’t fall. This in turn highlights one of the important features of using small scale biomass energy—it can be used rain or shine, day or night, and since it uses existing waste as fuel it’s all but impossible to run out of energy.
We hope this article sparks a broader conversation about resiliency issues in renewable energy, as we all work to address the twin challenges of energy access and climate change.
In Addis Ababa this week? Stop in to see Jim Mason at the Africa Climate Resilient Infrastructure Summit
Speaking of resiliency, if you are in Addis Ababa this week at the Africa Climate Resilient Infrastructure Summit, please make sure to meet up with APL’s CEO/Founder Jim Mason. He’s there meeting with other technology companies and clean energy advocates to help map out how Africa can address rising energy demands in a world newly focused on sustainability and dependability in energy systems.
We’re Hiring: Engineers and Sales
APL is looking to make some immediate hires in our engineering and sales departments, across a wide range of interesting and challenging positions. The best people we end up with come from referrals from people familiar with our work, so feel free to share these openings with your networks.
Down the trail: saying goodbye for now to Brenna Sheldon
APL is blessed to have a team of incredibly talented, dedicated people working here. It’s a pretty tight knit group, so we’re certainly going to feel the absence of one who is leaving us. But that sadness is offset by happiness for the reason she’s leaving: to take the adventure of a lifetime.
Brenna Sheldon answered an ad for a position here a year and a half ago, and we immediately hired her–she has a radiantly positive attitude, a can do spirit, and appetite for learning and trying new things. She quickly jumped into a big role in our sales department, and was key part of our outreach at the COP21 climate accords in Paris. (At R, with Sara Norris.)
But like we said, she likes a challenge–and she just took on one of the biggest. She won a coveted permit to hike the grueling 2,659 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and later this month will start her solo hike from the border of Mexico, all along the spine of the American west, to the border of Canada.
We’ll be heading out to meet her along the trail when she passes near here this summer, and know you’ll join us in wishing her a safe and rewarding journey.
Thank you for your continued interest in All Power Labs. Please contact us with any questions or to discuss your project, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
APL events all summer long
At APL we love talking about how biomass gasification can address the twin challenges of energy access and climate change, while providing a meaningful solution to solid waste problems. So we regularly host events, like this recent tour for local science and technology students.
But even by our outgoing standards, the next months have an exceptionally heavy schedule. In addition to the events below, we’re also going to be commissioning projects in Ghana, Benin, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and many more, as we continue our work to make on demand, renewable, carbon negative energy available everywhere. We hope to see you (somewhere) soon.
Thursday, May 12th 6:30pm — Movie release and technology display, Berkeley
Come see the powerful new film about climate change and citizen activism “How to let go of the world and love all the things climate can’t change,” by Josh Fox, Emmy award winning director of “Gasland.” Time: 6:30pm Location: La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Avenue. RSVP for free tickets here. APL’s Power Pallet is featured in the film, and we’ll have one outside after to show off to the audience.
Friday, May 13th 5-7pm — Monthly Open House at APL, Berkeley
Friday the 13th doesn’t have to be bad luck – if you come to our APL open house THIS FRIDAY May 13th you will definitely be in good fortune. Join us from 5-7pm for product demonstrations, facilities tours, live music, a variety of delightful libations (wine, beer, juice) and hot snacks, baked in a biomass-powered electric oven running off of one of our Power Pallets. A brief talk and guided tour kicks off at 6pm sharp. Families, friends and dogs are welcome! This is an informal event, so show up anytime, but please let us know you are coming by RSVPing.
May 19-21–Maker Faire, San Mateo
One of our *favorite* events of the whole year, and this one marks APL’s 10 year anniversary of participation. This is a place where science, creativity, innovation and exploration come together in an imagination playground for people of all ages. Check out their website, buy tickets, come early and plan to stay late.
May 31-June 2nd — Clean Energy Ministerial 7, San Francisco
“CEM7 will bring the global energy policymakers together with visionaries from the business and investment communities and other clean energy experts to drive high-impact, real-world action. A two-day tented technology exhibit in San Francisco’s Union Square will showcase clean energy technologies and innovative business models driving clean energy deployment around the world.” APL is delighted to have been chosen to participate in the technology expo, and will also be participating in side events like EnergyAccessX and a roundtable on carbon with the Center for Carbon Removal; you can get details and RSVP for that event here.
Friday, June 3rd, 5-7pm — Special early APL Open House, to welcome guests in town for CEM7. Same details as above, don’t forget to RSVP.
Friday, June 10, 7pm — Time to Choose movie premier and public demonstration, Berkeley
Directed by Academy Award winner Charles Fergeson, and presented by Executive Producer Tom Dinwoodie and Associate Producer Dan Kammen (both APL board members)–and all of them will be on hand for the screening. “Ferguson explores the comprehensive scope of the climate change crisis and examines the power of solutions already available. Through interviews with world-renowned entrepreneurs, innovators, thought leaders and brave individuals living on the front lines of climate change, Ferguson takes an in-depth look at the remarkable people working to save our planet.” The screening will be at the California Theater at 2113 Kittredge in downtown Berkeley at 7pm, with a live demo by APL outside afterwards. Tickets available here.
June 21-23 — Verge Hawaii / Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit, Honolulu, Hawaii
Continuing our outstanding partnership with VERGE, APL will again be demonstrating our technology by literally powering the clean tech event we’ll be attending.
VERGE is now hosting the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit, a multidisciplinary event encompassing clean energy technology and policy, infrastructure design, financing, resilience, and much more. You should check out the whole program here.
APL will be powering the main ballroom with an islanded micro grid, with battery storage provided by Blue Planet. This power will be used for the main conference, as well as the affiliated VERGE Accelerate pitch competition, in partnership with the Energy Excelerator.
Since we’re shipping one over for this event, we also want to make this SPECIAL OFFER: if you are in Hawaii and want to buy a Power Pallet this summer and pay no shipping, get in touch.
July 13-15 — Gasification Workshop at APL, Berkeley
Over the last eight years, APL has cultivated a community of gasification enthusiasts through our dedication to educating the public about the science behind biomass gasification. In the service of this APL tradition, we’re hosting another comprehensive, hands-on workshop that will cover the fundamentals of gasification, design, assembly, operation and maintenance of ALL Power Labs products. This July, treat yourself to a trip to lovely Berkeley, CA to take part in this distinctive opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of biomass gasification from some of the top experts in the field. Sign up here. Visa invitation letters for foreign guests provided on accredited request.
Thank you for your continued interest in All Power Labs. Please contact us with any questions or to discuss your project, at email@example.com.
Gasification has been famously described as “all variables, all the time,” and wrangling those variables into a tractable form has been our work at All Power Labs since starting out with the GEK kit back in 2OO8. Since then, we’ve released five complete generations of our gasification systems, and today Power Pallets are at work in more than 3O countries on six continents, and are supporting research at dozens of universities.
They deliver high-quality energy for productive use by turning waste biomass into on-demand, renewable, carbon-negative energy for far less than the cost of solar or diesel. (A recent video from the Huffington Post highlights the Power Pallet’s potential impact on rural electrification.)
However, our technology can always be made better, and we are constantly making changes to improve its performance and ease of use. The purpose of today’s note then is to highlight the most significant changes that have been implemented over the last several months. We’ve made a strong value proposition even stronger. Take a look:
As of today, all Power Pallets now include the new 5.02 version of our pyroreactor (shown here on the left being manufactured this week in our shop in Berkeley.)
Quite literally the burning heart of the Power Pallet, the pyroreactor is the core element of our gasifiers; the current generation–the version 5–was first introduced two years ago. The v5.02 incorporates various changes to the hearth, materials, accessories, and manufacturing methods.
The most significant modifications changed the impact zone of the reactor air input, creating a more even and precisely located combustion zone. This results in more complete tar cracking that occurs exactly where we want it, delivering a robust 40% reduction in tar production over previous generations, as well as a significant reduction in clinkering effects.
That means better performance and lower O&M costs. And because the changes are taking place entirely within the hearth of the reactor, there’s no change to external sizing and configuration, so the overall compact footprint remains the same.
Heat Exchange Filtration
Another big innovation: a new secondary heat exchanger filtration system (seen here, at the far left of the Power Pallet), which reduces the amount of tar in the gas stream and increases the longevity of the power train. One of the features that distinguishes the Power Pallet from other gasification systems is our innovative and patented use of thermal management, utilizing “waste” heat from one process to drive useful reactions and processes elsewhere in the machine–for example, using the waste heat from gas leaving the reactor to dry feedstock before it goes into the pyroreactor.
The heat exchange filtration system is another innovation in thermal management and heat recycling. After the gas is used to dry feedstock, it is routed through the inner tubes of the heat exchanger. The engine vacuum is used to simultaneously pull ambient air into the outer shell of the heat exchanger, where the temperature differential between the cool air and the hot gas allows heat to be exchanged, cooling the gas coming out of the reactor. This causes suspended tars and volatiles in the producer gas to condense and fall out of the gas stream before it flows into the primary filter.
The heated atmospheric air is then routed through the engine’s air intake and mixed with the cleaned and cooled gas after it exits the primary filter. The heated intake air serves a second function, as it raises the temperature of the combustible air/gas mixture and thus avoids the condensation of water and other remaining trace tars entering the engine so that they can be completely combusted. The result is much cleaner gas pre- and post-filter, and a markedly lower O&M requirement for the engine.
Engine Side CHP
A few months ago, in another iteration on waste heat transfer that adds substantial value to the Power Pallet, we introduced a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) module.
This CHP module uses the excess heat from the working fluid in the engine radiator and runs it through a heat exchanger. We provide hook-ups to the outside of the heat exchanger so operators can use that thermal energy to heat water and put it to productive use, like drying crops and other agricultural processes. An additional benefit of the CHP module is that is helps keep your engine running cool, reducing wear and tear.
We have also ensured that the CHP module delivers its thermal energy load without any reduction in electrical power output, meaning you can now get 1 kilowatt hour of electricity and 1 kilowatt of heat out of the same 1.2 kG of biomass. You can find more of the CHP module’s technical specifications and pricing here.
Stainless steel grate baskets
The perforated grate basket is one of the core elements in the APL gasifiers. It helps maintain a char bed at the bottom of the reactor that is ideally suited to maintain gas flow and sustain the reduction processes that are critical to the production of combustible gases from biomass waste. Refresh your understanding of how this basket is designed to work.
In order to ensure long uptime and reliability, we are now making the basket out of a very strong alloy of stainless steel, which resists corrosion and which our testing has shown is not prone to degradation.
The stainless steel grate basket is an improvement that was driven directly by feedback from our customers. We were getting reports from the field that over very long periods of runtime, the exposure to high heat and corrosive gases, combined with constant agitation, was causing degradation of the mild steel in the previous version of our grate baskets. This solution now solves that issue.
Continuous Feed Optimization
All Power Pallets now come with their electronics and feedstock hoppers ready to retrofit with an optional air lock system to enable easy automated filling for a customer-provided external feed system.
If you want to use a manual feeding process with your new Power Pallet, you won’t notice anything different. But if you’re interested in integrating APL’s continuous feed module and external fuel handling system with a Power Pallet that you already own, you can now do it without changing hardware.
Specifically, the hopper on all Power Pallets is now shipped with attachment points and wiring harnesses that will allow easy integration of the continuous feed module with its sensors, motor, and valve, should a customer decide that he or she would prefer to use a continuous feed system after receiving the unit. (Image: plugged bungs on the side of the feedstock hopper that would be used for continuous feed module feedstock level sensors in a retrofit.)
Because the APL continuous feed module obviates the need for an operator standing by to refill the Power Pallet’s feedstock hopper, this change enables customers to lower their O&M costs and thus provides a lower cost per kilowatt hour. You can see that system in use on this project at the Hybridnet in Terni, Italty.
Other recent performance improvements
There’s now a larger ash collection vessel for 24hr+ continuous run times, strengthened materials in the flare and exhaust, backfire-suppressing wiring and software changes, increased grid tie module control, an upgraded oxygen sensor, and much more. We also focused on usability issues, like adding an easily-accessible, weatherproof documentation holder right on the Power Pallet and improving the PCU automation interface.
All told, there are more than 30 changes and improvements to the Power Pallet in the last few months. With every improvement we make, we strive to ensure backward compatibility wherever possible, so it’s easy to upgrade your existing system to the latest performance.
And in other news…
We’re Hiring Again
We’re expanding our team, and are looking for both engineering and sales support in our Berkeley headquarters. Read the details about the positions here–please feel free to share and forward these job announcements.
Open House this week
Our March Open House will be held Friday the 11th, from 5-7pm. Come see the above improvements in person, learn about what’s coming next, and get your questions about gasification (or working at APL!) answered. Cold beer, hot pizza, and cool technology. Free to the public; please RSVP here so we know how many to shop for.
Biochar Workshop March 19th:
Jump into the fiery world of applied biochar with this immersive workshop for land managers, gardeners, farmers, policy makers, soil builders, and climate activists, being hosted by PLACE in Oakland, Ca. See examples using biochar for wastewater filtration, rooftop farming and vertical gardening .
• How to make biochar and biochar kilns
• Sustainable procurement of feedstocks
• Biochars’ potential and role in atmospheric CO2 reduction and climate stabilization
• Optimizing biochar production (pyrolysis) for beneficial properties
• Emissions analysis from wildfire, RX burns and gasification
• Biofiltration and bioremediation applications
• Usage of biochar as a soil amendment
TO REGISTER: Please go to http://aplaceforsustainableliving.org/support/and click on our gold “Donate” button on the middle of the page.
Once in Paypal, please make payment and add a note: “BIOCHAR Workshop.”
Questions? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org with “BIOCHAR Workshop” in the subject line.
Thank you for your continued interest in All Power Labs, the Power Pallet, and the exciting new renewable frontier of biomass gasification technology. Please contact us with any questions about these design changes or to discuss your project, at email@example.com.
We got a great climate deal at COP21–now what?
We should all be rightly happy about the outcome of the COP21 climate accords. Now comes the hard and exciting work–how do we reach these climate targets? The answers are sobering, and one take away is absolutely clear: solar and wind alone won’t do it. We’ll need carbon negative energy, and on a massive scale.
APL brought a big team to COP21 to share a simple message: affordable, renewable, carbon negative energy from biomass is here, and ready to help solve the twin challenges of energy access and climate change.
Paris was a fantastic time to discuss climate friendly energy with so many committed players all in one location, such as Andrew Herscowitz (top), the head of the Power Africa program, California’s Senate leader and renewable energy champion Kevin de Leon (bottom), and many more.
The importance of carbon negative energy bears repeating; as our friend Noah Deich at the UC Berkeley Center for Carbon Removal points out, almost every single scenario to get us to below +2 Celsius warming has to include large scale deployments of carbon removal technology. (Click here to read an early draft of a report he’s creating to explain the options and opportunities.)
Liberia APL Project in Huffington Post TV feature
We’re doing our part by getting to work immediately on a project that combined both energy access and climate change, with our second major project in Liberia. While the negotiations were still underway in Paris, a team of reporters from the Huffington Post was in Liberia filming APL putting those ideas into action.
The remote village of Kwendin, Liberia, had almost no electricity at all. But under a project sponsored by the USAID Power Africa program, three PP2O Power Pallets are being installed to provide power to every home in the community, as well as street lights, small businesses, and more. It’s more than just lighting–it’s energy for productive use that allows putting value adding tools like sewing machines and saws to work, creating jobs and opportunities for people in Kwendin.
Below are some screenshots from the excellent news piece they produced — we encourage you to click and watch. They did a very good job explaining the need for energy access in Africa, and what the solution means for local lives.
What lies ahead in 2016 for APL
This year we’ll be releasing our beta version of the 15OkW Powertainer, funded under a grant from the state of California to help reduce wildfire risk. We’ll also be releasing new versions and upgrades for our Power Pallets, making them easier to use, more powerful and more reliable. And we’ll be working to implement the new incentive and funding programs following the COP21 agreement, which will help grow projects for all of us. We’ll be sharing details on those soon.
In rural areas of the US? Quick turn around grants available from USDA
For those of you in rural areas in he US, know there is grant funding available from the USDA for projects in the US to create renewable energy in remote communities. The Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvement Assistance program provides grants and guaranteed loans to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements to their operations. It has a short turn around, so give it a quick look.
Thanks for your interest and support of our work, and very best wishes in this New Year.
-All Power Labs
The first week is finished at COP21, with less than a week to go until the deal is (hopefully) done. APL is attending these climate accord meetings to raise awareness about the potential of biomass gasification + biochar to make carbon negative energy. Gasification + biochar is a rare solution that can offset and replace fossil fuel emissions for contemporary power generation, as well as capture and and sequester additional carbon against previous fossil emissions. It is both fossil offsetting generation and atmospheric carbon drawdown together. The result is quite a few “a ha’s” at our booth with consequential folk, so we’re happy with the outcome and our ability to contribute to the exchange of ideas so far.
There are tens of thousands of delegates, activists, and business leaders here, all working to find common ground on which they can hammer out a binding agreement on limiting climate change. It is a rare gathering of the world working with seriousness to solve the ultimate problem of the commons. The main thing that has struck all the APL staff here is the seriousness of the project, and the willingness of various interest to promote solutions that are beyond their immediate self interest.
Government and business here is further along than we would have ever believed, in accepting the climate problem as an existential issue, and responding with deep imperative to act now. There are of course many details and much horse trading, but the basic hurtle of achieving a critical mass of agreement that climate is a critical problem requiring a global response, and that that response is going to be difficult and hurt, has been achieved. We’ll see what comes out in the deal at the end of the week, but currently the mood and specifics are surprisingly positive and forward looking.
The “we” of 50-100 years in the future may, in fact, not be completely doomed. Seeing the gathering here, I’m optimistic for the first time that this deep global problem might actually gather a human response on the scale needed to ( partially ) solve the problem.
Because it will impact so many, there’s extraordinary media interest in the event An army of media vans are beaming the story back around the world. You are probably seeing the results on your side of the world.
We even had a little press from our hometown newspaper. The San Francisco Chronicle published a full page story about APL’s work and its potential, noting “the [Power] Pallet can churn out electricity for less than diesel generators…and is carbon negative.” The snow sports magazine POWDER also wrote about the potential of APL tech to help keep snow in the mountains in the winter.
Having so many world leaders and visionaries in one place creates opportunities for high quality discussions and information exchange. For example, yesterday climate scientist Dr. James Hansen and I had an exchange about the scale potential for the gasification + biochar solution. Later I was able to talk with Sir David King, the head of the UK science advisors office, about biomass based power generators for higher power commercial needs in the large initiative the UK is starting in African rural electrification.
The booth for All Power Labs is at La Galerie Des Solutions, an exhibition of low carbon solutions, just outside the Blue Zone at La Bourget, where we’ve had a steady flow of visitors, like US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (L), and Dean Cooper with UNEP ( R), and maybe you, too.
This expo is only open to accredited visitors, and APL is able to offer immediate credentialing to as many visitors as would like to come join us over the next day or so. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like one, or to set up an appointment time to talk.
The negotiations are in their last, most tense hours and much will change in the near times ahead, but for the moment at least the prospects remain positive. Stay tuned.
Founder and CEO
Carbon negative renewable energy :
a solution for climate, energy access, and human dignity
Or, why we’re going to Paris, and you should be, too (even if just in spirit)
Next week, the COP21 finale to two decades of climate talks will be starting in Paris. The goal is to finally wrangle the long and messy debate over the Earth commons into a binding accord and roadmap to avert disaster on our small blue dot.
APL will be in attendance at COP21, showing our machinery for carbon negative power generation in the La Galerie Des Solutions, just outside the Blue Zone at Le Bourget. The “Gasification + Biochar” = Carbon Negative Energy” solution for generating power while simultaneously drawing down atmospheric CO2 levels has not received adequate attention on the global policy stage. We hope to change this a bit with our presence in Paris next week.
You are invited to join us if you can. We have free passes to give out for access to the main expo area. Write us at email@example.com if you would like one, or to set up an appointment time to talk. Also, if your organization is holding an event at COP21 and would be interested in having carbon negative energy represented on site, please send us a note on how we can participate.
Two weeks ago Paris was also host to a different gathering of activists; hellbent on blowing up the world, denying the useful diversity of humanity, and the rewards of open and affirming societies. While there are many threads of motivations that lead through these attacks, the story of global energy — its degradation of the natural environment, its fueling of profane sectarian/state bad actors, and its centrality to human aspiration and general dignity — is a thread that keeps weaving through the failed states and failed psychologies that produce these horrific outcomes.
The stakes are growing. We need to get energy and climate right.
Short term and long term, the stakes in getting energy and climate right are daunting and growing for all humanity. The shear volume of carbon we’ve dug up from ancient reservoirs since industrialization and returned to contemporary circulation is difficult to get the mind around. So far we’ve mostly been able to ignore the consequences of this tomb robbing, as the temperature rise from CO2 accumulation lags by decades, if not centuries. However, the historic charts reveal the regularity and predictability for temperature stabilization at various atmospheric CO2 levels, and gives us a looking glass into the disturbing road ahead for our CO2 emission trends.
The charts above show the remarkably close covariance of CO2 levels and temperature over 400,000 years of earth history. To give us some perspective on these dependent variables, note what a 50ppm, 100ppm, 200ppm change in atmospheric CO2 level has meant in temperature changes and sea level rise. Then know that during the vertical blip at the right end of the charts, human activities have raised atmospheric CO2 levels by 125ppm. And we’re continuing to raise it another 2.5ppm or so each year. That’s about 25ppm per decade, or 250ppm per century. And that’s at today’s rates, before we factor in likely future emission rate increases.
This is the first order approximation and understanding we need to grasp. It is an understanding that should scare the pants off us. In climate terms, “CO2 is destiny, all the rest is weather”. We all need to be watching the numbers for CO2 accumulation, not the difficult to distinguish short term temperature and weather changes. Then we need to relate these numbers to what they meant for the earth climate system over many previous cycles of this experiment. That, to an approximation, is where we are going.
In recent millennia, and for most of recorded human history, atmospheric CO2 levels have been a rather boring story. Industrialization, however, completely changed the narrative. What was a flat and uneventful line, has suddenly become an accelerating vertical spike.
Digging a little deeper into the recent spike, we see the shape of this spike closely tracks the growth in our fossil fuel emissions. Note particularly the inflection point around 1950 where personal transport via cars becomes the norm and electrification spreads globally with developing world industrialization. In less than a century, atmospheric CO2 levels have spiked far beyond the long term background fluctuations of the climate system.
Unfortunately, the climate system seldom gives feedback on a timeframe compelling to the human attention span. The rate of change in CO2, temperature, sea level, and terrestrial ecosystems during previous eras happened on geologic timeframes. Now, a hockey stick of CO2 accumulation is happening on the scale of a human lifetime. This still seems too slow a boil to fully gather the attention of humanity.
But consider this: changes to the climate system do resolve and express on multi-decade and single century scales. By 2100, the physics experiment we’re running will have rendered its basic results. The results will look like one of the scenarios below for CO2 levels and temperature rise. Elaborate from the above what this will mean for sea level rises, disruption of natural and human ecosystems, and the lives of 10 billion people.
The world of 2100 is going to look very different than the one we live in today. “Changes beyond our ability to adapt are not out of the question”, in the words of the IPCC. 2100 may seem a long ways off, but it is the same distance ahead as the invention of the automobile is behind us. Or, about one human lifetime newly lived from today.
Repowering the planet with renewables is of course fundamental to averting this disaster. However, even with the recent acceleration of renewables we’re seeing globally, we’re likely to overshoot our targets by non-trivial amounts. Beyond typical renewables like PV and wind, we’re also going to need options to capture and remove carbon from the atmosphere, and bring CO2 ppm back within long term habitable limits.
Multiple scenarios are emerging for carbon negative energy and/or direct CO2 capture and sequestration, though all are early in development, and zero in scaled deployment. Below is a summary of the basic options and pathways available. (Excerpted from the excellent University of Oxford “Stranded Carbon Assets and Negative Emissions Technologies Working Paper“, February 2015)
Biomass based solutions are of unique interest in that the hardest problem — the actual capture and storage of CO2 — is already solved and globally installed at scale in the form of photosynthesis and plants. We don’t have to start from scratch, as in the case of direct air capture of CO2. We only have to process the biomass in some form that prevents the captured CO2 from returning to atmosphere.
Biomass based energy generation has long been considered carbon neutral to an approximation, as the carbon released during combustion was recently removed from the atmosphere to make the biomass. No new carbon is added to the terrestrial and atmospheric carbon cycle, as no ancient fossil carbon is dug up and reintroduced to the cycle.
Carbon negative biomass energy cycles extend this basic carbon neutrality with new features that capture a portion or all the carbon during electricity generation, and prevent its return to atmosphere. Via various means, the captured carbon is sequestered away for long term storage, and thereby removed from the contemporary carbon cycle. You might think of it as the reverse of burning fossil fuels– sucking carbon out of the sky and putting it back in the ground. Active carbon is transformed into inactive carbon, and removed from the climate system.
The Biomass Gasification + Biochar solution uses the charcoal byproduct gasification during power generation, as the carbon store that can be collected and sequestered. Sequestration is much easier than flue stack CO2 gas capture and storage, as char is a solid and easy to handle. Biochar is equally important as a soil amendment, with surprisingly powerful benefits to plant productivity, soil biological activity, water retention, pest management and mineral uptake in plants. And as it is known to be stable in soil for 100s to 1000s of year timeframes, it is a low tech and cheap method for carbon storage, already with a scaled infrastructure via global agriculture. The combination is an unique “win, win win” across energy, agriculture and climate management.
Here’s our new video explaining how it works, why it matters, and what APL is doing to make it real.
Biomass Gasification + Biochar is also unique in that the technology already exists to do it, and various early products are already at market. Today APL and other companies can deliver biomass based Gasification + Biochar machines. While the machines and companies are still new and emerging, there are no fundamental technical or economic barriers that block its potential for scale. Of the competing Negative Emissions Scenarios, Gasification + Biochar has some of the lowest hurdles and greatest potentials for near term scaled deployment. Details on the comparative analysis of options is here: “Stranded Carbon Assets and Negative Emissions Technologies Working Paper“, also referenced above. (yes, we’re encouraging you to read it)
APL Carbon Negative Machinery: Today and Future
APL has long known but seldom highlighted the carbon implications of our work. We believed our first project was to get the basic electricity generation in order, as that is the economic driver which makes the rest possible. Biochar alone is difficult to monetize, but as a co-product along with electricity (and potentially heat), the economics are much more attractive and scaled adoption more likely. Thus our grand plan at APL has always been to produce combined energy and biochar machines, with variable output between the two, as the immediate use case requires. Now that our basic power generation systems are stabilizing, you’re going to see progressive attention to the biochar side of the total proposition.
Today the APL Power Pallets produce a relatively small amount of biochar byproduct (around 5% of input mass), but it is still enough for modest carbon negativity in the fuel cycle. The round rule of thumb numbers are as follows:
* 1 tonne of dry biomass in produces about 1Mw/hr of electricity and 50kg of carbon byproduct.
* 50kg of raw carbon once recombined with O2 is the equivalent of 185kg of CO2 in the atmosphere. (mass C x 3.67 = mass CO2)
* Therefore every tonne of biomass input to the gasifier can soil sequester the carbon equivalent of 0.185 CO2 tonnes in the atmosphere.
* Avoided CO2 emissions from not burning fossil fuel in the process are added to the wins above.
Future APL machines will introduce features that enable increased biochar yield of up to 15-20% of input mass, while still co-generating electricity. For now we are just using the post hearth char. You can learn more about our carbon analysis here. You can also read fantastic coverage of the run up to COP21 in The Guardian. And for an extraordinary insider’s perspective, we’re really enjoying the blog Winning the Carbon War by Jeremy Leggett.
On to Paris
It should come as no surprise we are guided in our work by our Board of Directors, whom you may know from their efforts around climate change.
Dr. Dan Kammen is the founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley, and the founding member of APL’s Board of Directors. As a lead principal author on the IPCC report since 1999, Kammen has long focused on the intersection of technology and climate. In a recent report, he noted that biomass energy with carbon capture and storage ( or BECCS)’ may be one of the few cost-effective carbon-negative opportunities available to mitigate the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change.”
Another board member, Tom Dinwoodie, is a decades long renewable energy pioneer. As both the founder of solar innovator Powerlight and Chairman of the Board at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Dinwoodie has said “All Power Labs has an exciting technology with an extraordinary potential to make a meaningful impact on energy access and climate change.” His new film on climate change, “Time to Choose“, made in collaboration with Charles Ferguson, will have its international debut at COP21, airing at the Grand Palais, December 5, 6pm,
The booth for All Power Labs will be at La Galerie Des Solutions, an exhibition of low carbon solutions in partnership with the General Secretariat of the COP21, just outside the Blue Zone at Le Bourget. We would be delighted to see you there.
Solving climate change will be the hardest problem humans have ever confronted, much less solved. It will take all of our collective best ideas and efforts. The journey will be long and arduous, and the prices for failure are incredibly steep. We might as well get started.
-Jim Mason, Founder and CEO
All Power Labs
October has been–and continues to be–a big month for All Power Labs. Continue reading From Workshop, to White House, to Silicon Valley
Renewable energy pioneer Tom Dinwoodie leads investment round
and joins APL Board of Directors.
Continue reading Tom Dinwoodie invests in, joins APL Board