Sunday 27 September 2009

China’s green leap forward


Behind the notorious clouds of filth and greenhouse gases that China’s industrial behemoth spews into the atmosphere every day, a little-noticed revolution is under way. China is going green. And as the authorities here spur manufacturers of all kinds of alternative energy equipment to make more for less, “China price” and “China speed” are poised to snatch the lion’s share of the next multitrillion-dollar global industry – energy technology.

Chinese factories already make a third of the world’s solar cells – six times more than America. Next year, China will become the largest market in the world for wind turbines – overtaking America. This fall, a Chinese firm will launch the world’s first mass-produced all-electric car of this century. And where are American utilities buying the latest generation of “clean coal” power stations? China.

“The Chinese government thinks of renewables as a major strategic industrial option” that will help fuel this country’s future growth, says Li Junfeng, deputy head of energy research at China’s top planning agency. “We will catch up with international advanced technology very quickly.”

China will likely remain the world’s worst polluter, emitting more CO2 than any other nation, for the foreseeable future. Its reliance on cheap coal to generate the bulk of its electricity makes that almost inevitable.

At the same time, however, “this country is installing a one-megawatt wind turbine every hour,” points out Dermot O’Gorman, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Beijing. “That is more encouraging than the one coal fired power station a week” that normally dominates foreign headlines.

Indeed, China is pushing ahead on renewable technologies with the fervor of a new space race. It wants to be in the forefront of what many believe will be the next industrial revolution. If it succeeds, it will hold far-reaching implications for the planet – affecting everything from Detroit’s competitiveness to global warming to the economic pecking order in the 21st century.

“The rest of the world doesn’t even realize that we are very likely ceding the next generation of energy technology to the Chinese,” says Todd Glass, an energy lawyer with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati in San Francisco.

A 20-MINUTE DRIVE from the Great Wall, along the south shore of the Guanting reservoir, straw-hatted peasants tend their corn crop as the elegant blades of windmills spin idly above them in the gentle breeze, farming the wind.

Guanting’s 43 wind turbines provided some of the power for last year’s “Green Olympics” of which China was so proud, and they continue to generate not only electricity, but admiration: The wind farm is a favorite spot for newlyweds to take their wedding photos.

“They find the windmills beautiful and magnificent,” says Yin Zhiyong, the Guanting wind farm manager, as he shows a visitor around. “So do I.”

Mr. Yin trained as a coal engineer; when he was at college 20 years ago, wind-power courses were not offered. Today, he is convinced, “new energy sources are the new way of development. I’m part of the future.”

The Chinese government shares that view. The country’s installed wind power capacity has doubled each of the past four years, and is likely to exceed the 2020 target next year, a decade ahead of schedule. A revised goal, expected to be more than three times higher than the current one, will be announced soon, officials say.

Beijing has deliberately stimulated the wind sector with an array of subsidies and tariffs and a rule obliging power companies to buy renewable energy similar to a law now before the US Congress. So fast have windmills been built that the national grid cannot handle all the energy they generate, and much is wasted.

But the industry built by government policy is now looking much further afield. “Goldwind’s goal is to become a multinational and international company,” Wu Gang, the CEO of Goldwind, the firm that built Guanting’s turbines, told the “Securities Times” last month. “That is our business target.”

Already, he pointed out, Goldwind is building wind farms in Texas, and Goldwind acquired its key technology by buying 70 percent of the German company Vensys, not by developing it itself. That deal points up a key ingredient in Chinese firms’ strategies: If they don’t have time to develop technological proficiency, they will use their financial clout to get ahead.

China’s top planning agency is soon expected to announce plans to raise the proportion of renewables in the country’s energy mix to 20 per-cent by 2020, matching the European Union’s ambitious target.

Goals like this act as clear pointers for the state-owned power generating companies, where “the idea of planned industrial policy is in their blood,” as Ellen Carberry of the China Greentech Initiative puts it.

That approach is apparent in the electric-car sector, says Ms. Carberry, who represents 60 global and Chinese companies seeking to grow the green technology market here.

Two Chinese firms, BYD Auto (for Build Your Dreams) and Qingyuan are vying to bring an all-electric car to market this fall. In December, BYD started selling the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid vehicle.

With the passenger vehicle sector moving forward, the government ordered 1,000 hybrid buses for Beijing and Shanghai earlier this year. It announced customer rebates of up to 40 percent off the price of new cars, depending on their energy efficiency.

Almost overnight, Beijing has focused world attention on the Chinese hybrid vehicle market. “They saw that Detroit was in a muddle, so they will leapfrog,” says Carberry.

The government has taken a different path with solar energy, refusing until recently to offer any encouragement of its use at home because solar’s price was still much higher than traditional fuels and incentives would have been very expensive. But that hasn’t stopped Chinese and foreign venture capital firms from investing in the manufacture of solar panels for export. Here, as in other fields, “China is a fast follower,” says Alex Westlake, a founder of Clearworld Now, which invests in Chinese green-tech firms.

Though solar technology is not as advanced in China as in the US, producers here have used the country’s traditional cost advantage to vault to the top of the solar sales league.

And when the government does make up its mind which technology to back, its support “will make the Chinese photovoltaic market the biggest in the world,” predicts Miao Liansheng, CEO of Yingli, one of the country’s top solar-cellmakers.

The sheer size of China’s market, and the economies of scale that size allows, are key components of the country’s advantage. “They are using their manufacturing strength and imposing cost discipline on the world,” says Mr. Glass.

NOWHERE ARE CHINA’S green ambitions more evident than in its drive towards new “clean coal” technology, which would help Beijing reduce its emissions of pollutants and CO2 while remaining reliant on its giant coal reserves. China burns coal to generate 80 percent of its electricity; the United States uses it for half its power. No matter how many sources of renewable energy those two countries tap, coal will remain their dominant fuel source for several decades.

Many energy experts are pinning their hopes on new ways of using an old technology, coal gasification. It cuts SO2 and NOx emissions and separates out CO2 so that it can be captured and then either used in industry, digested by biodiesel-producing algae, or stored permanently underground.

The US was meant to lead the way toward a near zero emissions coal-fired power plant by building one first while other countries, including China, waited for experimental data before constructing their own.

But the US Futuregen project ran into so many cost and political troubles that it was shelved. As a result, the Chinese government decided last year to move ahead with its own project. The Greengen plant, designed to be the most efficient and cleanest coal-fired power station ever built, should begin operations by the end of next year, officials here say.

In the meantime, two Chinese research centers, the East China University of Science and Technology and the Thermal Power Research Institute, have developed coal gasification techniques to challenge America’s lead in the field. Both recently licensed their inventions to American firms building power plants in the United States.

“The general thinking in the US is that we are 30 years ahead of China in technology,” says Ming Sung, a Chinese-born American who worked most of his career with Shell. “We think it’s a one-way transfer. China licensing technology to the United States is still very unusual. But it will become less and less unusual.”

He points to underground coal gasification, where solid fuel is converted to gas without even being extracted, as an example. China graduated 17 PhDs in that field last year. Only two graduated in the rest of the world.

Not that the US is a technological laggard, of course. US firms were developing advanced coal gasification technologies 30 years ago, but the Department of Energy lost interest in them when the oil embargo ended, complains Mr. Ming. “The US is very innovative, but everything comes to fruition in China,” he says.

Or, as Zhang Hongmei puts it: “In America, some people say there is no such thing as clean coal. It is very controversial. Here it’s not a question of debate or lobbying. It’s a question of doing something.”

Ms. Zhang is director for technology strategy and development at ENN, China’s largest privately owned clean-energy provider. At its spacious and exquisitely manicured campus in Langfang, 40 miles east of Beijing, executives live in villas by the fairways of the company golf course.

That is the kind of perk that has helped the company recruit many engineers abroad – both foreigners and Chinese whom ENN has tempted home. “In China as a whole, research levels are still generally low. We are at a very, very young stage compared to the US or Europe,” says Gan Zhongxue, ENN’s chief technology officer. “So we recouped many researchers from the US and Europe who are familiar with advanced technology and can then do something for ENN.”

“China cannot yet produce things with the credibility and quality behind the ‘Made in Germany’ label,” adds Jennifer Morgan, an analyst with E3G, a London-based environmental think tank. “They are not there yet.”

Still, the country has plenty of reasons to attempt to be the world’s next green-energy power. For one thing, it has few natural energy resources of its own. Plus, its pollution problems are so severe that it has little choice. The country’s outsized reliance on coal is literally a matter of life and death: 750,000 people in China die prematurely each year because of air pollution, a World Bank study in 2007 found (though the Chinese government insisted the bank cut that statistic from its final report). Only 1 percent of the population breathes air that would be considered safe in Europe.

Moreover, Beijing – just like US President Barack Obama – sees renewable energy as an economic boon. Building out a new global energy industry over the next half century will generate more business than any other sector, Chinese officials predict, and they want a hefty chunk of that business. “This gives us an opportunity to develop a new area for a new industry” says Professor Li. “It’s good for our long-term development.”

BUT THE QUESTION LOOMS: What does China’s rise as a green power mean for the rest of the world? Certainly it has its benefits. A China with more solar cells and electric cars will help reduce the amount of heat-trapping gases building up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

It could also reduce the competition for, and depletion of, dwindling natural resources – notably oil. If China rises as a green-technology manufacturing hub, it could supply the world with low-cost solar panels and wind turbines as it does now with toys and textiles.

Yet there are worries for the West, too. If green energy is the new industrial revolution, Beijing will be grabbing many of the jobs of tomorrow. That will likely hasten the day when China becomes the world’s No. 1 economic power.

“China sees [green technology] as an enormous market that is not claimed or controlled by any one nation, and there is an opportunity for them to do it,” says Carberry. “The combination of urgency; the enormous needs; a focused, systematic planned government; an army of engineers; and access to capital may define China as the platform for the green- technology industry globally.”
Mr. Westlake of Clearworld Now, echoing the 1980’s song by the American rock band Timbuk3, puts it more pithily: “The future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades.”

Climate change quickens

Monday 21 September 2009

Dyesol Inc lining up for a wave of new energy investment

Welcome to the Dyesol newsletter. It has been some time since we published a newsletter in this form, providing something of a round up of recent activity. However as our projects and plans come to fruition, and the company grows, I believe that it is important that we maximise opportunities to tell our shareholders, the broader markets and the public about the full range of the activities, about some of the big milestones we are reaching and about some of the small steps taken.

Since the last newsletter there has been a flurry of activity – the 3rd Conference on the Industrialisation of Dye Solar Cells organised by Dyesol was held in Japan, several big announcements have been made and rapid progress has been achieved throughout all of our international joint ventures and partnerships.

In other exciting news, in recognition of the extraordinary development of DSC, its inventor Professor Michael Graetzel, our close scientific collaborator and Chairman of Dyesol's Technology Advisory Board, won the 2009 Balzan prize for work in the ‘Science of New Materials’ in Italy.

Dyesol Inc lining up for a wave of new energy investment in the USA

While the world has struggled under the heavy burden and sometimes chaotic fallout from a meltdown in US asset prices, a new energy era has quietly begun in America that created the perfect conditions required for Dyesol to formally incorporate a US subsidiary.

Barack Obama’s Presidency has been dominated by the financial crisis that he inherited, but it is the initiatives he has launched in energy that made it advantageous for Dyesol to establish a permanent presence in the USA.

With a declared target of producing at least 25% of the USA’s enormous electricity production from renewable sources by 2025, the Obama administration have already committed $60 billion to the green jobs and a clean energy economy through the ‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’. President Obama has further underwritten the American energy revolution with a promise of $150 billion in research and development funds for new energy technology over the next 10 years.

More than the substantial dollars however, it is the fundamental change in direction by the new President that could release the full entrepreneurial zeal and brilliance of the US economy onto the challenge of climate change, and the need to reduce fossil fuel dependency.

Marc Thomas has recently been appointed Chief Executive Officer of Dyesol’s North American subsidiary and his primary role is to develop strong business case for the future of the venture.

“This first step in entering the dynamic USA market has been carefully considered for some time,” said Sylvia Tulloch, Managing Director of Dyesol Industries. “We will be planning the resourcing and direction of our newest international subsidiary to ensure that Marc Thomas can pursue the opportunities arising from the Obama administration’s initiatives in support of the clean energy technology sector. What is beginning to happen in the USA should open significant opportunities for Dyesol.”

Dyesol investment in capacity leads the world

Commissioning of Dyesol’s materials manufacturing facilities in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, in October 2008 has proven to be timely, despite the financial crisis that has gripped the globe. Demand for DSC materials has experienced strong growth in the period since the facility was commissioned, and the production team have been committed to fill orders from companies and universities working on DSC projects.

Dyesol is one of the world’s only suppliers of the nano-chemistry, premium materials, laboratory and pilot production line systems required for DSC research and manufacturing. Since the new factory opened Dyesol has exported more than 90% of everything produced.

The solar photovoltaic market, forecast to be worth $US30 billion in 2008, is attracting many established industrial companies who want to be part of the market of renewable energy. For many corporations, DSC is seen as a potentially lower risk, and lower cost entry point into renewable energy products and Dyesol, with its portfolio of feedstocks, laboratory and pilot plant equipment, and technical consulting services, is becoming the first point of contact for many new entrants once the decision has been made to investigate third generation photovoltaics as a possible product line.

The recent receipt of an order for $AUD1 million worth of goods and services from a PETRONAS subsidiary is an example of the sort of interest that Dyesol is getting from global corporations. PETRONAS is a leading global oil and gas industry player based in Malaysia that has previously had little involvement in the solar energy sector.

The goods and services ordered from Dyesol comprise just a first step for a company of this scale, but is a step that would only have been taken once significant research and opportunity assessment had been done, including assessment of available suppliers of materials and know-how. Dyesol believes that this order is a huge endorsement of Dyesol’s capacity to support organisations with big plans for their future in renewable energy.

“The dyes and pastes that we produce in our new facilities are being used in research laboratories and the emerging DSC industry around the world,” said Dr Gavin Tulloch, Dyesol Managing Director Global. “Major corporations such as Sony are now developing DSC technology themselves, and are producing fascinating prototypes, and we are just one step away from the commercialisation of such products. The demand for DSC materials will of course grow exponentially once these products are released to the market”.

In addition to increasing its manufacturing capacity in Queanbeyan, Dyesol’s commercial partnerships are also rapidly moving towards commercialisation of DSC product that have the potential, on their own, to create very significant and long term demand for materials.

Dyesol has, over the past 12 months, established a facility in North Wales, United Kingdom to support the Dyesol/Corus collaboration. This project has been awarded a generous assistance package by the Welsh Assembly Government, to accelerate the commercialisation of DSC technology onto steel sheeting. Corus, a subsidiary of Tata Steel, is the world’s fifth largest steel producer.

Dyesol Italia srl is partnering with Italian energy company ERG Renew and with the world’s leading fa├žade company, Permasteelisa to develop and commercialise next generation solar panels for buildings.

These activities that Dyesol is directly supporting are only the tip of the iceberg of the DSC research and commercialisation activity underway around the world and Dyesol’s state of the art manufacturing puts it in a strong position to be the leading global supplier of DSC materials, services and facilities.

Dyesol walks the walk

What would be the point of making renewable energy if the technology that made the energy was manufactured in an environmentally damaging way? The management and staff of Dyesol are serious about this question as they are collectively committed to ‘eco-logical’ action at every level of the enterprise. Dyesol regards returns to shareholders, ecology and social commitment as objectives of equal rank.

Dyesol already has a natural advantage to face the challenge of sustainability because DSC technology has the lowest embodied energy of any solar technology. Embodied energy is the total life cycle energy of a product, including costs of mining and refining of raw materials, energy of facilities and equipment, energy associated with manufacturing, energy associated with our staff and contractors and services, energy of transport, energy for marketing sales and administration, energy for product and facility maintenance, and energy for recycling of our products.

However, Dyesol takes the responsibility a step further and is driving down energy used in manufacturing with a ‘yield improvement’ programme in the manufacturing operations. This aims to ensure that higher quality, better performing materials, are manufactured at higher yields per unit of embodied energy.

In the process of designing and constructing the Company’s manufacturing facilities in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Dyesol management investigated every cost effective measure to reduce the energy and water consumed on the premises.

As well as the expected steps of insulation and air-flow management, the air-conditioning systems use ozone friendly refrigerants, and the minimum outside air quantities required to refresh air quality and provide occupant safety. Electronic control systems provide the ability to regulate individual air conditioning systems to serve after hours operation independently.

Energy efficient T5 lighting with individual switching of local areas and time control operation of lighting has been installed, as well as time controls on under bench hot water units for point-of-use application, and pipe lagging to all supply lines, reduce heat waste in the water system.

Paper, brochures and other marketing materials are recyclable. Staff are required to utilise the paper, glass and plastics recycling bins provided.

Dyesol takes sustainability seriously, it is not just for appearances. The Company also takes its role as a new energy economy leader seriously, and intends to stay in the top ranks of the global indices that track performance of clean energy companies.

Since March 2008 the Company has been included in the Australian CleanTech Index© and Dyesol is in the top 20 out of over 60 companies in this index. In 2008 the Company was included in the “Top 100 Low Carbon Pioneers” of CNBC Europe. And in 2008 Dyesol received a Prime Rating from OEKOM Research, Munich, Germany. Dyesol is very proud about these acknowledgements of our credentials. These achievements encourages us to intensify our efforts to become more strongly ecologically beneficial, not just neutral.

Korea Enters the Organic Photovoltaic Age

The opening of the Dyesol-Timo pilot production plant in Seong Nam, South Korea on 13th July 2009, could be said to be the symbolic beginning of a new era for that extraordinarily industrious country. The opening ceremony, involving Korean officials, politicians and business people, who were joined by the Australian Ambassador to Korea, Mr Sam Gerovich, were imbued with some gravitas, and a sense that something exceptional was occurring.

In just 10 months the Dyesol-Timo JV team constructed and commissioned a world class pilot plant which has the potential to lead South Korea into the forefront of DSC commercialisation. In the course of the project planning, and the development of the facility, Dyesol scientists were also fully engaged in transferring the knowledge needed to successfully operate the facility to the Timo DSC team lead by Professor Moon.

Dr Gavin Tulloch, Managing Director Global, was there on the day to speak for Dyesol, and took the opportunity to remind the guests about the unique virtues of DSC that means that it really cannot be compared to other conventional photovoltaic technologies.

“Dye solar cell technology exists totally independent of all other types of photovoltaics – it emulates part of the photosynthesis process. It builds on millions of years of natural evolution of low energy processes – processes that utilise minimum energy to produce electrons,” Dr Tulloch said.

“Consider how a leaf functions in photosynthesis. It works in all light levels. It does not have to face directly at the sun for photosynthesis to occur. It operates in shade. It has low embodied energy and is very energy efficient. Most importantly,” Dr Tulloch pointed out, “this means that the voltage created in the leaf structure is virtually independent of light level for all orientations – and this is true for DSC also. Our challenge has been to match nature and it has been essential to understand the fine electrochemical balance and to select materials that, when combined, provide exceptional stability and hence very long lifetimes of up to 50 years.”

Having emulated photosynthesis in the lab, the next challenge for Dyesol’s scientists was to create processes that enable the basic building blocks of a dye solar cell to be mass produced. The pilot production line constructed for the Dyesol-Timo joint venture is based on a series of proprietary process, assembly and test equipment developed and commercialised by Dyesol to do just that, mass produce DSC.

The potential for DSC in the South Korean industrial economy cannot be understated. Glass-based DSC products would be very well suited to South Korea, where the solar conditions, dense urban cityscapes and rapid adoption of new technology provides an ideal environment for a number of DSC products.

South Korea is one of the fastest growing solar markets in the world and is forecast to remain so. The Korean Government has established a positive policy platform for clean technology development and recently announced plans to invest an astounding 2% of GDP worth 107 trillion won per annum (US$84.5 billion) in environment-related industries over the coming five years.

Dyesol will continue to actively support the venture, including providing access to the extensive IP holdings of the company, new innovations and developments, and supplying high performance cost competitive DSC materials and equipment.