Startup M2X Energy Partners with UCF’s FSEC, Aims to Convert Greenhouse Gases into Low-carbon Methanol

The startup-university partnership is creating a technology to convert stranded gas methane, which is a common byproduct of oil production, to methanol, that can be used in low-carbon fuels and other materials.
Closeup of gas burning from well head with clouds in background
Gas flaring is the process of burning and disposing stranded natural gas, a byproduct of oil production, at oil wells. Photo credit: Anthony Dean, M2X Energy

Most people realize the climate impacts of carbon dioxide. Not many people, however, know that methane, the main component of natural gas, is much more potent than carbon dioxide.

While methane doesn’t remain in the atmosphere as long as CO2 (which can linger for thousands of years), it is 84 times more potent at trapping heat over a 20-year time horizon, according to the sixth annual assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change. And in 2021, the emission of methane rose to record levels for the second year in a row, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That’s why UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) has partnered with startup M2X Energy, which has developed a technology to capture methane from gas flare sites and convert it to liquid methanol, which can then be transported. The startup was created in 2020 and venture-funded by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which was founded by Bill Gates and helps accelerate innovations that support getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Read more

New Tool Calculates Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Buildings

RESNET’s new tool is called the CO2e Rating Index and is the first of its kind.

A first-of-its-kind tool that UCF’s FSEC Energy Research Center helped develop can calculate how much carbon dioxide buildings and homes produce. Image credit: Adobe Stock

A building science expert with the FSEC Energy Research Center is part of a team that recently developed a first-of-its-kind tool that can calculate how much carbon dioxide buildings and homes produce.

“Climate change is a real problem, and the leading cause of it is carbon dioxide emissions,” says Philip Fairey, Deputy Director of FSEC, Florida’s premier energy research center at the University of Central Florida. “While the auto industry has made great strides in reducing carbon emissions from vehicles, the most well-known emitter of CO2, many people don’t know that buildings themselves are responsible for about 35% of greenhouse gas emissions due to burning fossil fuels for power, heating and cooling.”

Fairey is a board member of the Residential Energy Services Network, or RESNET, which created the tool. RESNET is a not-for-profit organization founded to develop a national market for home energy efficiency.

“With the nation’s climate goal of reducing U.S. emissions by half by the year 2030, it’s vital to have measurement tools to determine what causes these emissions and how to reduce them,” Fairey says. “That’s where RESNET comes in.”

RESNET’s new tool is called the CO2e Rating Index and is the first of its kind.

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FSEC® Researchers Study Degradation of Current PV Module Designs

Researchers at FSEC and throughout the nation determined that the lowering costs of photovoltaic modules has not impacted their durability.

In a five-year study that began in 2016, scientists from around the nation purchased over 800 photovoltaic (PV) modules, representing seven manufacturers and 13 module types, and installed them in various climate conditions to observe their performance over time. The results show that, while plenty of opportunities still exist to extend module lifetimes and improve performance in the field, lowering the cost of PV has not affected the degradation rate of the modules.

Researchers from FSEC®, at the University of Central Florida, assisted in a five-year study to test the durability of photovoltaic modules in the hot and humid Florida climate.

Researchers Hubert Seigneur and Dylan Colvin at FSEC®, Florida’s Premier Energy Research Center at the University of Central Florida, were a part of the nationwide study to determine whether the reduced cost of PV, due to altered designs and changes in material, would result in degradation and decreased durability of the modules. The testing procedure and the results of their studies were recently described in the article, “Onymous early-life performance degradation analysis of recent photovoltaic module technologies”, which was published in Progress in Photovoltaics, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal covering research on photovoltaics. Following the publication of the article in Progress in Photovoltaics, PV Magazine highlighted the study as well as the published article in their own feature.

Photovoltaic modules degrade over time as they are exposed to elements. This example of a 60-year-old module shows that even after enduring the harsh Florida climate, the panels are still producing power.

The study found that module degradation rates tend to stabilize after three to four years, and that additional flash-testing after this period could help system owners better ensure that modules are performing according to expectations.

“The results of the study are encouraging for the industry,” said Seigneur. “On average, the performance degradation is on par with the typical warranty from manufacturers. Surprisingly, though, there were significant differences in performance amongst the leading manufacturers.”

Studies like this can reassure system owners that although there have been many changes to materials and designs in the past 10 years, the investment they make in photovoltaics is still beneficial.

The study was also beneficial to the research teams.

“This was a fruitful collaboration with leading scientists at the national laboratories, resulting in mutual benefits,” said Seigneur. “We were able to exchange details regarding our respective lab methods and procedures and further strengthen our respective programs. This study attests to the quality of the PV research conducted at FSEC.”






FSEC’s Newest Completed Project Determines Cost Validity of Intelligent Diagnostics Using String-Level I-V Curves and Machine Learning

With photovoltaic plants having the highest installation rate of all power sources in the last five years, the need for monitoring these plants is essential in maintaining power output and life expectancy. Are the current industry standard utility-scale monitoring systems enough to appropriately detect possible faults that could lead to power failure? A team at the Florida Solar Energy Center has spent the last five years studying the value proposition of high-resolution monitoring systems (HRMS)  to determine its effectiveness on levelized cost of energy (LCOE) reduction.

The popular infrared imaging technique is good at detecting hotspots but under certain conditions only. The top and bottom are IR images of a string showing a specific PV module. The module showed no signs of hot
spots when string was operated at MPPT. But, the same module showed signs of checkered pattern hotspots when operated at off-MPP.

“The project’s purpose is studying the value of monitoring the modules and strings in detecting the photovoltaic (PV) faults and its impact on LCOE,” Manjunath Matam, post-doctoral scholar at FSEC and project lead, says. “The PV modules and strings are all connected to the inverter and it is hard to detect the faults using the inverter data. Sometimes, the faults never get detected and cause huge power losses in the long run.”

So how does this U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored project benefit PV plant owners and investors? “The PV plant owners, investors, utility companies, stakeholders have no idea whether installing the HRMS equipment to monitor the modules and strings will add value, produce more power and generate revenue, or if it will just be an additional expenditure,” Matam says. “Our project, through its simulation, hardware, indoor and outdoor experiments, has observed that installing the HRMS equipment to monitor the strings will add value and is very beneficial since it can detect the faults, even the low power-loss causing faults, after a reasonable amount of time.”

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