'Greenergy'—the Next Big Thing

Renewable energy generation renews market, savings opportunities

STAMPING Journal March 2009
March 10, 2009
By: Kate Bachman

Since the dot.com boom and bust, everyone from investors to manufacturers to geeks have been looking for The Next Big Thing.


Since the dot.com boom and bust, everyone from investors to manufacturers to geeks have been looking for The Next Big Thing.

Unless you have been living like a "Lost" survivor or studying stalagmites up close, you've witnessed the explosion of green energy generation—"greenergy"—poised to make the dot.com craze look like a blip in comparison.

Harnessing the power of the earth, water, sun, and sky is not new, of course. In fact, some applications date back hundreds, even thousands, of years—think solar tile baking ovens and merchant sail ships. Hydroelectricity is currently the leading renewable-energy source to generate electricity in the U.S. Windmills have been around long enough to be the nostalgic symbol of Holland and the shape of tasty cookies.

Cost Competitiveness

The biggest barrier to widespread commercialization of renewable-energy generation—solar, wind, biofuels, and geothermal—as well as energy storage, such as lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells for electric vehicles (EV) and hybrid electric vehicles—has been cost.

Developments to lower costs and improve performance are emerging continuously, rapidly moving renewable energy from the lab to commercialization and mass production (see New Green Developments sidebar).

The U.S. federal government historically has provided subsidies to fund domestic energy production of fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy. Government support has been increasingly extended to renewable energy as well (see Government Funding for Renewables sidebar). Most state governments now have renewable portfolio standards that require a significant percentage of commercial electricity power generation within their states be sourced from wind, solar, and biofuels, as well as tax incentives for users. Bolstered by this government financial support, renewable-energy generation is cresting as a cost-competitive rival to fossil fuels.

Capitalizing on New Market Opportunities

So what does all this mean for stamping manufacturers? In addition to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, lessening American dependence on foreign oil, and balancing the U.S. trade deficit, the renewables industry gives U.S. stampers and fabricators some of the best prospects for new market growth and energy savings.

Numerous components and assemblies for wind, solar, biofuel, and hydrogen fuel cell equipment are metal formed and fabricated (see Figure 1).


Wind Market. The market for wind power is potentially enormous, growing globally at 30 percent a year since 1994. In a 2008 report, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) concluded that the U.S. could make wind energy the source of 20 percent of its electricity by 2030, up from about 2 percent today.

The U.S. just passed Germany to become No. 1 in wind power installations; in 2008 more wind power was installed in the EU than any other electricity-generating technology; and China's total capacity doubled for the fourth year in a row, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

The U.S. wind energy industry has opened or expanded more than 50 wind turbine component manufacturing facilities in the past two years, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Wind power's growth has accelerated job creation, particularly in manufacturing, where the share of domestically manufactured wind turbine components has nearly doubled in three years, to 50 percent, in 2008, the association says.

Systems are classified as large-scale (big wind) or small-scale (small wind).

Large-scale, also called utility-scale systems, are primarily intended to generate electricity for utilities and power companies and are located in groups of large machines called wind farms or wind power plants. Today an average-size, land-based commercial wind turbine generates 1.5 megawatts (MW) to 2.5 MW, according to Clipper Windpower, Carpinteria, Calif. Wind turbines for land-based wind farms generally have rotor diameters between 50 meters and about 90 meters, and with towers of roughly the same size; a 90-m machine with a 90-m tower would have a total height from the tower base to the tip of the rotor of approximately 135 m (442 feet).

Big Wind Components. Clipper Windpower's Web site lists components and assemblies it needs from prospective suppliers:

  • Blades
  • Bearings
  • Cable assemblies
  • Condition monitoring systems
  • Converters/inverters
  • Fabrications and weldments
  • Gearbox gears
  • Generators
  • Hardware and fasteners
  • Machining
  • Nacelle covers
  • Pitch control systems
  • Power distribution panels
  • Shafts
  • Safety equipment
  • Towers

Big Names in Big Wind. Large-scale OEMs include:

Small-scale systems generate 100 kW or less, according to the AWEA. Towers generally have rotor diameters of 8 m or less, mounted on towers 40 m high or shorter. They may tie into the power grid, but are intended for individual use by farms, rural residences, and small businesses.

New building-mountable small wind systems offer some of the best energy savings opportunities for metal stampers and fabricators in their facilities (see Figure 2). Unlike large-scale utility wind farm systems, they are specifically designed for use in urban and suburban locations in industrial and commercial applications.

AeroVironment calls its patented Architectural Wind™ a new category of wind system. Small, modular wind turbines are designed to take advantage of buildings' aerodynamics. The "chimney effect" that occurs when wind strikes a building creates a zone of accelerated airflow that can double the wind's velocity, the company says.

Big Names in Small Wind


Solar energy is co-generational; it can be used for electricity (solar electric) or heat (solar thermal).

Solar electric photovoltaic (PV) systems use semiconductor materials to convert sunlight into electricity. PV produces direct current (DC) electricity that is converted via an inverter to produce alternating current (AC) or is stored in batteries.

Solar thermal energy uses solar collectors that absorb the sun's heat to directly heat air and water.

Concentrating solar power plants typically use miles of mirrors to heat a fluid to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.

Solar Market. International market growth is strong for PV, fueled by incentives in countries such as Germany and Spain. The U.S. ranks fourth in the world for installed solar power. Germany is first, Japan is second, and Spain is third.

U.S. solar energy manufacturing grew 74 percent in 2007, led by expanded capacity of thin-film PV panels and improved manufacturing efficiencies. Still, at the end of 2007, solar energy represented less than 1 percent of the U.S. energy mix, just over 3,400 MW of installed solar power. This included 750 MW of PV, 418 MW of utility-scale concentrating solar power, and 2,250 MW (thermal equivalent) of solar hot water systems.

Large or small solar PV systems usually are most cost-efficient if they tie directly into an electric utility's power grid. Excess power generated by an individual solar energy system is sent out onto the grid electricity so that utilities pay for the wattage generated by the individual system.

Due in large part to the research funded by the U.S. DOE, the cost of PV solar has dropped more than 10-fold from 1976 to today, the department says.

Solar Components. Solar systems comprise several components (see Figure 3), including many that can be metal stamped:

  • Batteries
  • Battery enclosures
  • Battery interconnects (for multiple batteries)
  • Battery racks
  • Charge controllers
  • Electrical components, wire
  • Fasteners
  • Fused wire from the charge controller to the batteries
  • Inverters and inverter boxes
  • Mounts (pole, roof/ground), pole brackets, extensions (see Figure 4)
  • Panels (with metal conductors, aluminum frames)
  • Panel interconnects (for multiple panels)

Solar panels are made of crystalline silicon or thin-film materials.

Crystalline silicon solar panels are manufactured by cutting crystalline silicon into tiny disks less than a centimeter thick. Dopants (materials added to alter an electrical charge) and metal conductors are spread across each disk. The conductors are aligned in a thin, gridlike metal matrix on the top of the solar panel, and are spread in a flat, thin sheet on the side facing the ground. The nearly finished panel is attached to a substrate using a thermally conductive cement.

Thin-film solar panels are made by depositing layers of photovoltaic materials on glass or flexible materials (see New Green Developments sidebar).

Large-scale (more than 300 kW) commercial and utility solar projects and municipalities use an array of solar panels similar to those found on residential rooftops (see Figure 5) or miles of mirrors to heat fluid to create steam which drives an electricity-generating turbine.

Big Names in Solar


Biomass Market. Biomass (plant-derived) energy is clean and abundant. Material is provided by crops, trees, agricultural and forestry residues, and animal waste.

Biomass provides the only renewable alternative for liquid transportation fuel—biofuel, created by the conversion of complex plant sugars into ethanol. Ethanol is currently processed primarily from corn and sugar cane, and sold for flex-fuel vehicles as E85 and for most autos as an additive to gasoline. According to the U.S. DOE, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the ethanol market has the potential to grow to 16 billion gallons per year.

Current biomass electricity generating capacity is about 12,300 MW, enough to meet the power needs of Massachusetts, according to the EERE. R&D to explore the conversion of other crops, such as switchgrasses, and organic residue as well as waste into fuel, heat, or electricity is in the development stages (see Turning Trash Into Electricity sidebar).

Biomass Components. Like petrochemical refineries, biorefineries are processing plants, except it is organic matter—biomass—that they convert into fuels and bioproducts. Therefore, equipment and components for biorefineries differ only slightly from petrorefineries, requiring most of the same metal tanks, conduits, and machinery (see Figure 6).

Big Names in Biomass

Fuel Cells

A hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical device that combines hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to produce electricity, heat, and water. Fuel cells produce DC electricity without the conventional combustion reaction, according to FuelCell Energy, Danbury, Conn.

A fuel cell is a co-generation device—it provides both electricity and heat. In addition, it can be both stationary and mobile.

Fuel Cell Market. Manufacturing, universities, food and beverage, hospitals, hotels, wastewater treatment facilities, and utilities are all segments that can use fuel cell technology. Multimegawatt direct fuel cells efficiently generate on-site baseload power for large manufacturing facilities 24 hours a day and can eliminate reliance on the power grid.

Other technologies relying on certain operating conditions, such as solar and wind, are able to achieve availability ratings of only around 35 percent; direct fuel cells achieve availability ratings in excess of 95 percent, according to FuelCell Energy.

Fuel Cell Components. Commer­cial­ization expert Chet Kolodziej, FocusOn Solutions, Rockford, Ill., explained that hydrogen fuel cell manufacturing involves a good deal of metal forming and fabricating.

"A fuel cell unit looks like an air-conditioning unit. Manufacturing it is not all that different. So for stampers and fabricators, you've got bingo. You've got louvered slots in light-gauge metal enclosures. Inside you've got brass and copper fittings, fasteners. The difference is about 10 percent stacks, which are fairly technical: chemistry, polymers, small particles, nanotechnology."

Even the bipolar plates can be metal stampings. Research commissioned by the DOE, EERE in 2007 indicated that the most cost-efficient production method for the 800 bipolar plates used in fuel cell systems is by stamping metal plates in a four-stage progressive die (see Figure 7).

Big Names in Fuel Cells


Geothermal energy (from the Greek roots geo, meaning earth, and thermos, meaning heat) is defined as heat that comes from the earth. The heat continuously flowing from the earth's interior is estimated to be equal to 42 million MW of power. Geothermal energy can be accessed for heating and cooling as well as electricity.

According to Geothermal Energy Today, geothermal resources supply about 6 percent of the energy produced in California, 10 percent in northern Nevada, 25 percent in Hawaii, as well as significant power in Utah. According to the Geothermal Energy Association, the U.S. installed capacity is more than 2,800 MW of electricity. Geothermal energy also provides about 600 MW of thermal heating capacity for schools, homes, and businesses in the U.S. Geothermal is presently a $1.3-billion-per-year business.

The U.S. government receives more than $40 million annually in royalty and lease payments from geothermal energy production.

Energy Efficiency: The Flip Side of Energy Generation

To be most effective, renewable-energy sourcing is usually coupled with energy efficiency, which can be as effective in achieving energy cost savings and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (see Manufacturer's Green Sweep).

Stampers seeking to reduce energy consumption can benefit by using energy-efficient press systems, direct application lubricant systems, better waste disposal (see Stamping Solutions, p. 9), EV forklifts, and energy-efficient lighting.

Companies really are limited only by their own imaginations, willingness to evolve, and, you know—the sky.

Agencies and Associations

American Hydrogen Association

American Solar Energy Society

American Wind Energy Association

Geothermal Energy Association

Renewable Fuels Association

Solar Energy Industries Association

U.S. Department of Energy

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE EERE)

New Green Developments

  • New manufacturing processes that reduce cost and manufacturing time, such as thin-film solar panels made by coating semiconductor layers onto glass or roll-printing a conductive substrate directly as the electrode (pictured, named by TIME® as one of the best innovations of 2008).
  • Equipment modified for new applications, such as rooftop wind systems for urban buildings, including factories.
  • Improved battery capacity, such as lithium-ion batteries that extend the range that an electric vehicle (EV) can go between charges; an ultracapacitor that allows rapid recharging.
  • New designs to improve efficiency, such as a solar energy system comprising concentric circles made of thin lenses that focus the sun's rays onto a postage-stamp-sized, high-tech solar cell. This system has a combined heat and power efficiency of nearly 80 percent, a significant improvement over conventional solar systems' about 14 percent efficiency.
  • New manufacturing methods, including one that "prints" solar cells on nearly any surface, allowing incorporation of solar panels directly into the materials from which the buildings are made.
  • New scientific breakthroughs, such as a cheap catalyst that can generate oxygen by splitting water molecules, freeing hydrogen ions to make hydrogen gas. Called artificial photosynthesis, the process mimics how plants use sunlight to split water to make usable energy. "For solar power, this is probably the most important single discovery of the century," said German chemistry professor Karsten Meyer.

Government Funding for Renewables

Of the $821 billion U.S. trade deficit (goods only) in 2008, $386 billion—almost half—comprised petroleum products. Sourcing energy domestically represents an opportunity to shrink the trade deficit.

President Barack Obama has been very vocal about his commitment to grow renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Obama administration’s goals are to double renewable-energy production in the next three years and for one-fourth of the nation’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2025, CNN reports.

Of the just-passed $789 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009, billions are designated for renewable-energy generation and energy efficiency programs.

Spending Programs. Of the $317 billion spending portion, $50 billion is designated for the Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program; $14.398 billion for the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) programs; $483 million for nondefense environmental cleanup; and $330 million for science (presumably R&D).

Advanced Energy Investment Credit. This establishes a 30 percent investment tax credit for facilities engaged in the manufacture of advanced energy property (up to $2.3 billion in credits). Advanced energy property includes technology for the production of renewable energy, energy storage, energy conservation, efficient transmission and distribution of electricity, and carbon capture and sequestration.

Energy Credits. Businesses can claim a 30 percent tax credit for qualified small wind energy property (capped at $4,000).
PTC. The bill also includes a three-year extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC), long used to encourage investment in domestic energy production. In 2007 coal accounted for 25 percent of tax-related subsidies, and oil and natural gas received 20 percent of the tax-related subsidies.

Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds. The bill authorizes an additional $2.4 billion worth of qualified energy conservation bonds to finance state, municipal, and tribal government programs and initiatives designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
To apply for financing, visit www1.eere.energy.gov/financing.

For the full summary of provisions from the U.S. Senate Finance, House Ways & Means Committees, visit http://finance.senate.gov/press/Bpress/2009press/prb021209.pdf

Turning Trash Into Electricity

A group of scientists at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., reported in February 2007 that they had developed a portable refinery that efficiently converts food, paper, and plastic trash into electricity. The machine, designed for the U.S. military, will allow soldiers in the field to convert waste into power and could have widespread civilian applications. The tactical biorefinery processes several kinds of waste at once, which it converts into fuel via two parallel processes. The system then burns the different fuels in a diesel engine to power a generator.

Green Factoids

  • Coal-burning electric power plants produce about half of the U.S.'s electricity. (U.S. DOE) They are the heaviest emitters of CO2. (U.S. EPA).
  • CO2 emissions from power plants continue to rise every year. In fact, 2007 recorded the largest jump (2.9 percent) of CO2 emissions in the last nine years, based on an analysis of data from the EPA. This has called into question the validity of developing an electric vehicle that, although it produces no emissions directly, does so indirectly by using electricity supplied by power plants. (Sierra Club)
  • Noncommercial vehicle CO2 emissions are 20 percent of energy-related emissions. (DOE/EIA)
  • China overtook the U.S. in 2006 as the world's biggest emitter of CO2. China produced 6,200 million tons of CO2; the U.S. produced 5,800 million tons of the gas. (Bloomberg)
  • Although the U.S. has only 4 percent of the world's population, it emits about 25 percent of global warming pollution. (DOE/EIA)
  • In Europe, 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from power generation. (European Environmental Agency)
  • Brazil, which is the world's second-largest producer of ethanol and the world's largest exporter, has the world's first sustainable biofuels economy. Together, Brazil and the U.S. lead the industrial world in global ethanol production.
  • Wind is the country's second-leading source of new power generation. (American Wind Energy Association)
  • The U.S. just passed Germany to become No. 1 in wind power installations globally.

Ohio Fastener Company Grows on Wind

Cardinal Fastener & Specialty Co. Inc., based in Bedford Heights, Ohio, manufactures very large bolts used to join wind turbine towers to their foundations.

"Our company is planning for growth to meet expected increases in wind power sales, and is looking to add up to 40 full-time associates in 2009 to our current 65," said Cardinal founder and President John Grabner in an AWEA news release.

Cardinal uses only Amer­ican-made materials, and all production occurs at Cardinal's 95,000-square-foot factory in Cleveland. The company has been in business for 25 years, and it recently added personnel to meet demand from the expanding U.S. wind industry, the report said.

Manufacturer's Green Sweep

Kettle Foods, with headquarters in Salem, Ore., and a manufacturing facility in Beloit, Wis., managed to gorge on market share while fasting on energy. It is the first food manufacturer to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Gold-level certification for green buildings from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Perched on the perimeter of its new factory in Beloit are 18 AeroVironment Architectual Wind roof-mounted wind turbines, generating enough energy—approximately 28,000 kilowatt-hours—to produce 56,000 bags of potato chips every year.

The Salem headquarters houses one of the largest commercial solar power arrays in the Pacific Northwest. The company's 616 solar panels generate 120,000 kWh of electricity annually—enough to make 250,000 bags of potato chips each year—and reduce annual CO2 emissions by 65 tons.

All electric power not produced by solar panels at the Oregon plant or the wind turbines is offset through the purchase of renewable energy credits (REC), so that all its electricity is sourced from renewables.

Kettle Foods' comprehensive sustainable business practices includes extensive recycling and sourcing more than 35 percent of its building materials from within 500 miles of the building site.

None of the company's agricultural waste goes to waste: All uncooked corn, raw potatoes, and finished potato chips are used for composting or for animal feed. Millions of gallons of water used to wash potatoes are filtered and reused.

All waste cooking oil is processed into biodiesel, used as fuel for company vehicles.

Every year the manufacturer recycles over 360,000 lbs. of cardboard; 10,000 lbs. of plastic stretch wrap; 9,000 lbs. of magazines and office paper; as well as glass, metal, paint, fluorescent light bulbs, and "techno trash" such as computer components, videotapes, and CDs. In addition, the company has installed high-efficiency equipment to reduce its use of natural gas and electricity.

Not only has its use of renewable energy and green business practices resulted in an estimated $200,000 a year in energy savings, it has gained market share. All natural Kettle Brand® Potato Chips account for nearly half the growth of the premium potato chips category.

Kate Bachman

Kate Bachman

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1302

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STAMPING Journal is the only industrial publication dedicated solely to serving the needs of the metal stamping market. In 1987 the American Metal Stamping Association broadened its horizons and renamed itself and its publication, known then as Metal Stamping.

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