The U.S. Department of Energy and the Republic of Korea have signed a new agreement to establish a U.S.-Korea Clean Energy Technology Partnership that will increase the two countries’ cooperation on cleantech research and development.

The agreement will lead to more collaborative efforts pertaining to energy efficiency, renewable energy, smart grid, clean transportation, carbon capture, and energystoragesystems.

The partnership is one more item in a long list of agreements between the U.S. and South Korea, including the Major Economies Forum, Clean Energy Ministerial, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the International Energy Agency, and through the Korea-led Global Green Growth Institute.

It’s particularly good news for the U.S. if the agreement leads to technology transfer, as South Korea has some of the most aggressive smart grid goals in the world and has established solid targets for renewable and energy efficiency.

Last year, the country’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy released a two-page report that hits all the high points in its plan for smart grid deployment through 2030, with hard targets for everything from advanced metering infrastructure to EV quick-charging stations and microgrid communications. 

In recent years, the U.S. government has handed out more than $4 billion in smart grid stimulus grants in areas such as smart meters, renewable and electric vehicle integration and energy storage projects. ARPA-E, the research arm of the DOE, has awarded about $400 million to universities, research organizations and companies working on everything from the SunShot Initiative, geared to bring the cost of solar down, to breakthroughs in grid-level energy storage.

South Korea, on the other hand, has committed about $6.2 billion on technology development for its smart grid roadmap and another $18 billion to building infrastructure. While Korea’s investment in technology can also benefit the U.S., the appetite to invest in cleantech infrastructure will have to be nurtured domestically in America.


In other news:

-- Mitsubishi Electric Corporation has started full-scale tests of smart grid and smart city technologies. While electric vehicles and wind turbines might be the first products that come to mind when thinking about Mitsubishi, this project will develop and test products for commercial systems and equipment that can earn the company an estimated $17 billion in the global market by 2016.

The products will be both consumer-facing and for the grid level, according to a press release, and solutions will focus around continuous energy service in the wake of emergencies, like the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan earlier this year.

The test will focus on demand-side balancing, distribution automation and, particularly, voltage control, balancing grid operations when large amounts of renewable energy are in use, and microgrid technologies allowing neighborhoods to be islanded in a disaster. Japan already has one of the world’s most advanced electrical grids, so expect big things in renewables as the country focuses its energy priorities in new directions, including a call for the regional utilities to buy all of the renewable power available to them.

-- The expansive and yet limited cleanup of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico more than a year ago raised a lot of questions about the industry’s preparedness to react when disasters happen. Although novel cleanup technologies were suggested, burning and booms were still the primary methods of trying to disperse and collect the 206 million gallons of spilled oil.

In the wake of the disaster, the winners of the latest X Prize are raising the bar on oil spill cleanups. While BP was recently allowed to buy more oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, independent companies competed to revolutionize the technologies used to clean up the messes that large oil companies create. Elastec, a relatively small company out of Illinois, landed the top honors in the Oil Cleanup X Challenge -- and $1 million in prize money.

The challenge, funded by Wendy Schmidt, wife of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, called for a technology that could skim oil at a rate of 2,500 gallons per minute, more than double the 1,100 gallons per minute that is the current industry standard. Elastec blew that goal out of the water, achieving 4,670 gallons per minute with a nearly 90 percent efficiency rate with its Grooved Disk Skimmer.

The company has been in the oil cleanup business for decades, and skimmers aren’t new. The firm had drums that picked up oil, but when they heard about the X Prize, they were up for the challenge, although many in the company were skeptical they could reach the 2,500-gpm benchmark.

 The solution was a trough with four rows of grooved disks, which look like giant plastic records, instead of a single drum. The skimmer was also the largest and fastest the company had ever built. “It’s remarkable,” commented one Elastec team member during a demonstration in a YouTube video.  

No word on whether the technology will be deployed to help cleanup efforts in the ongoing oil spill in New Zealand.