Environmental Technology, News, Power Generation & Electrical

Renewable Future

In a country fortunate enough to possess thousands of rivers, lakes and waterfalls for use in hydropower and vast deposits of offshore oil, why is so much time and money being spent on developing new, cleaner sources of energy? The...

This commitment is good news for the growing number of Norwegian firms creating cutting-edge technology in the areas of hydrogen, solar, wind, tidal and osmotic power. Developing and marketing these products will demand a coordinated approach from the public and private sectors, however. “We need to make certain that there is a basis for developing more Norwegian companies that are based on the innovations in energy technology from our research groups,” wrote Sverre Aam, President of SINTEF Energy Research, on the group’s website.

RENERGI: A Leading Light

Working to connect research and industry is the Research Council of Norway’s RENERGI large-scale programme, one the nation’s foremost clean energy development programmes. The effort, budgeted at NOK 145 million for 2006, supports and coordinates fundamental renewable energy research aimed at solving challenges in both the long-term (30-year) and short-term (5-year) perspectives. Key goals for RENERGI include developing renewable natural resources, contributing to the development of promising technologies and nurturing the research and expertise environments in the country.

Besides environmental factors, there are a number of solid economic reasons to develop clean renewables, according to Harald Rikheim of RENERGI. Citing “pressure from increased costs of electricity, with prices increasing in drought seasons, and the need to rely more and more on import of energy”, renewables should be developed both to help the global environment and to help Norway “keep its (energy) edge.”

Projects Far & Wide

RENERGI supports well over 100 ongoing clean energy projects in Norway and internationally. One recently sponsored effort is a project designed to show that CO2 can replace chemicals in auto climate control units without raising petrol consumption. With RENERGI’s support, Norwegian research institutions are developing proprietary cooling technology that is designed to reach the market before the EU’s 2011 deadline for all new cars to run free of today’s air conditioning chemicals.

SINTEF & the Centre for Renewable Energy

One of the key institutions participating in RENERGI is SINTEF, which is the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia. In partnership with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the group has launched another major step towards creating a cleaner energy future: the Centre for Renewable Energy. From its home in Trondheim, the new centre will cover a wide area of renewable energy technology subjects, including architecture, materials technology, communications and transport.

Many experts consider hydrogen to be the clean energy option with the highest upside potential. SINTEF established a Hydrogen Committee to study the potential of the fuel from a Norwegian perspective and deliver recommendations to the government. The Committee’s report called for a national hydrogen energy programme to be funded at NOK 900 million over the next 10 years, emphasizing research, development and demonstration of the fuel for both transport and stationary energy supplies.

Hit the Road with Hydrogen – Today

Thanks to increasing focus on the fuel, progress has been made in bringing the hydrogen era closer. Today, driving to the pump and being able to choose H2 is no longer science fiction, thanks to Norwegian public/private initiative Hynor. The effort is creating a real-world hydrogen energy infrastructure along the 580-km-long highway between Oslo and Stavanger, with a goal of making the entire journey possible for hydrogen vehicles by 2009.

In 2006, a crucial first step forward for the hydrogen highway was taken, with Norway’s first hydrogen filling station officially opening for business. Located just outside of Stavanger, Statoil’s new facility has hydrogen pumps which are fully integrated into a normal petrol station. On offer are three alternative fuels: hydrogen, HCNG (which is a blended product of hydrogen and natural gas) and natural gas alone.

The next station planned by the Hynor project along the Stavanger-Oslo corridor will be a Hydro facility near Porsgrunn in Telemark county, slated for opening in the spring of 2007. To make the trip more feasible, Hynor has recently acquired 15 Toyota Prius hydrogen hybrids for use along the route. But it isn’t only the Prius that will be pulling up to the new hydrogen stations: the Mazda RX8 hybrid and Think Hydrogen made appearances at the new station in Stavanger, filling up and driving off, leaving only water vapour in their wake.

While Norway’s first hydrogen highway is becoming a reality, other nations across the region are following suit. In June 2006, the Scandinavian Hydrogen Highway Partnership was formed. The group was created to help make it possible for hydrogen vehicles to become a real and practical alternative across the region’s roads by the year 2012. “The time has come for Scandinavia to step up to the challenge of gradually introducing the zero-emission transport systems of tomorrow,” wrote Hynor project manager Ulf Hafseld about the formation of the partnership.

Not Just Blowin’ in the Wind

Helping wind power become more economically viable is an important step towards creating a renewable energy future, so the opening in Valsneset of Norway’s first test station for wind turbines (VIVA) was considered a watershed event. VIVA consists of a research turbine of 225 kW, a measurement mast and a test unit. The turbine is packed with the latest instrumentation, able to accurately measure wind force and turbine performance.

The facility will test and develop the latest wind technologies, according to operations manager Per Finden, with an overarching goal of further developing the wind power sector. Both NTNU and SINTEF are contributing expertise to the project’s work, which is driven by an official national goal of producing 3 TWh of wind power domestically by 2010. “It is fully possible to generate 10 TWh within a decade,” Finden noted in an interview with Norwegian trade publication Teknisk Ukeblad, “all Norway needs is more know-how.”

Floating Windmills

RENERGI has helped sponsor Stavanger company SWAY’s patented floating wind turbine tower system of the same name. The innovation features a floating turbine tower that is precisely balanced by a heavy ballast section beneath the surface of the water, which keeps the unit afloat even in the heaviest seas. The firm predicts the units, which they hope to deploy as prototypes in 2007, will generate levels of power on a par with land-based wind power units.

“Hywind” is the name given to a similar project; here, new wind power technology is designed to produce power at sea using floating concrete construction to host offshore windmills. Model testing of the Hydro company project is currently ongoing at SINTEF’s Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (MARINTEK) ocean basin laboratory in Trondheim.

“Hywind is a future-oriented project combining our offshore oil industry experiences with our knowledge of wind power to take advantage of wind resources where it blows most – at sea.” wrote Hydro’s director of new energy forms, Alexandra Bech Gjørv, on the company’s website.

With wind speeds at sea higher than those on land, the firm expects Hywind to be highly energy efficient, saying the technology is “very well-suited for energy-poor areas where there is little accessible land, but good offshore wind conditions – for example in the United States, Japan and in the vicinity of offshore installations.”

Hywind’s turbines will stand 80 metres above the ocean surface, with a rotor diameter of about 90 metres. A demonstration project will start operating during the course of 2007, with Hydro envisioning implementing future turbines with a power capacity of 5 MW and a rotor diameter of approximately 120 metres.

Drawing Strength from the Northern Sun

Despite Norway’s northerly position, the country is one of the world leaders when it comes to developing leading-edge solar energy technology. Far and away the leading player in this sector is Renewable Energy Company (REC), parent to REC Wafer and other companies. In fact, REC is uniquely positioned in the solar energy industry as the only company with a presence across the entire value chain. REC Silicon and REC Wafer are the world’s largest producers of solar-grade silicon and wafers for solar applications.

As an indication of the world’s growing appetite for solar energy, REC recently announced it had decided to more than quadruple its solar cell production and double its solar module production by the end of 2008. Thanks to the expansion of capacity, the company’s cell and module production will increase from the current 45 MW level to a total of 225 MW in cells and 100 MW in modules.

Elkem Plans Huge Solar Investment

Elkem Solar hopes to build a new silicon factory at a cost of NOK 2–3 billion, which would rank among the largest industrial investments in Norwegian history. The facility would employ a new, more energy-efficient production method, currently in testing by Elkem. The new technique relies on a process that requires much simpler equipment than current gas-based silicon production.

Slated for final management approval in late 2006 as of this writing, it is hoped that the new factory can begin operation in mid-2008. The site for the new facility is not yet determined, but Elkem hopes that high volume (a projected 5,000 tonnes of silicon per year) coupled with its new, less expensive production techniques will result in strong cost positioning, placing the firm into a commanding position in the growing worldwide marketplace for solar power materials.

Two other companies active on the solar energy scene are Norsol, which is to open a wafer production facility in Ardal in the autumn of 2007, and Solanor, which specializes in solar heating systems.

Turning the Tides

Norway’s extremely long coastline and the powerful wave energy close to shore have made it a world centre for the development of tidal power. One pioneer in this discipline is Hammerfest Strøm, which is currently the only firm in the world that delivers power from a tidal power station to an ordinary power grid. With a NOK 1.7 million grant from RENERGI to develop technology, the company has created a 300 kW tidal power prototype that has performed for three years without failure or technical problems in a 50-metre-deep location outside of Hammerfest in Norway’s most northerly county, Finnmark.

The company is now seeking investment for the next phase of the project: more turbines installed to create an effect of 700–1,000 kW. The new units will have a three-bladed propeller mounted on a three-legged platform.

Tidal power experts contend that harnessing the waves can be just as efficient as wind power, and that it is natural, with all of Norway’s offshore experience, that the country should be in a leadership position when it comes to developing the materials that are strong and efficient enough to produce energy in a harsh marine environment. As evidence of this, Norway’s first large tidal power facility is being developed for a site at Buldra, outside of Karmøy on the country’s west coast. The effort is being spearheaded by Fred. Olsen & Company, and is backed by expertise from NTNU and SINTEF.

Another wave power firm, Pelagic Power, is working on a prototype unit of floats that draw energy from the waves, and then direct it to a pump below surface. The pumps will in turn send seawater into a power station based on land. Pelagic is currently seeking investors with an eye towards producing power for the international market.

Gassnova: Cleaner Gas Production & CO2 Capture

As a project of the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy (OED), Gassnova was established to foster development of environmentally friendly gas power technology. The programme manages government funding for the testing and demonstration of technology for removing greenhouse gas emissions from power production.

One area of Gassnova activity is research into CO2 management. According to the programme, Norway is one of the few countries in the world that has the potential to generate income from the management of CO2. Two projects led by SINTEF – BIGCO2 and Enhanced Oil Recovery by CO2 Injection – are working on ways to capture and then inject CO2 into oil reservoirs, which would reduce greenhouse emissions while increasing oil recovery rates by an estimated six to twelve percent.

Thinking Long-Term: The Potential of Osmotic Power

Anywhere fresh and salt water meet, osmotic power can be created. Statkraft is currently at the forefront in developing the technology it thinks will lead to this source becoming an important part of the future’s clean energy production mix.

Simply put, osmotic power is created when both freshwater and saltwater are funnelled into a membrane module. The freshwater is then transported through the membranes and into pressurized seawater. This results in a pressurized mix of brackish water, which then flows to a hydropower turbine, generating electricity.

Statkraft points to 2015 as the year that the first osmotic power plant can be producing electricity. Key technological steps to that goal are the development of a membrane that separates the saltwater and freshwater, but allows powerful flow between the two, and the creation of the proper pressure converters. The process must operate at a pressure of 11–15 bar in order to achieve good economic performance.

The company points to thin-film composite (TFC) membranes as very promising for bridging the gap from demonstration project to commercialization. Statkraft estimates the potential of domestic osmotic power as reaching a production of 12 TWh per year, and in Europe some 200 TWh annually.