Wednesday, April 30, 2008

XCPV Cheap Photovoltaics at 5c per KWH?

Start-up SUNRGI claims that its new highly concentrated photovoltaic system will be able to generate power at 5 cents per KWH. If it is able to deliver on its promise, it would boost photovoltaic power generation back into the limelight. By concentrating sunlight in a much more intense fashion, SUNRGI claims to be able to generate more energy from the same amount of costly silicon.
A new patents pending solar energy system will soon make it possible to produce electricity at a wholesale cost of 5 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour). This price is competitive with the wholesale cost of producing electricity using fossil fuels and a fraction of the current cost of solar energy.

XCPV (Xtreme Concentrated Photovoltaics), a system that concentrates the equivalent of more than 1,600 times the sun's energy onto the world's most efficient solar cells, was announced today by SUNRGI, a solar energy system designer and developer, at the National Energy Marketers Association's 11th Annual Global Energy Forum in Washington, DC. The technology will enable power companies, businesses, and residents to produce electricity from solar energy at a lower cost than ever before. ___Source
More on the origin of SURGI:
Sunrgi, based in Hollywood with a research office in Silicon Valley, says it can produce devices that magnify sunlight and produce electricity at 5 cents a kilowatt-hour, or about the cost of coal-generated electricity.

At the National Energy Marketers Association conference in Washington, D.C., today, Sunrgi will make its presence known with an announcement that it plans to start selling its Xtreme Concentrated Photovoltaics, or XCPV, product in 2009.

The system generates heat and requires cooling, but will fit in a smaller amount of land or roof space than rival technologies, said Robert Block, Sunrgi's co-founder. Executives of the self-funded company include Thomas Forrester, Allen Amaro and KRS Murthy, all Silicon Valley veterans. __Source
The product appears geared for both commercial and residential customers, and should be applicable for a CHP (combined heat and power) role. As such, it might provide competition for residential and small commercial fuel cell CHP.

Besides the proprietary concentrating system, the actual breakthrough may be the proprietary cooling design to allow the silicon to function properly under such intense light.

Stay tuned for followup announcements.
H/T NextEnergyNews

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Developing Local Solutions to Local Problems

The push is on to develop non-edible feedstock for biofuels. The most popular approaches are cellulosic bio-alcohols and algal biodiesel. But there are other non-edible feedstocks for biodiesel, including Jatropha Curcus. The shrub does not tolerate frost well, but that only means that jatropha is more appropriate for tropical climates than temperate ones. Mexico is one example of a country well sited for growing jatropha.
Global Clean Energy Holdings, Inc. (OTCBB: GCEH) announced today that it has formed a 50-50 joint venture with Los Angeles Businessmen Stewart A. Resnick and Selim K. Zilkha, both highly accomplished entrepreneurs who have developed successful agricultural & alternative energy companies. The joint venture’s mission is to acquire and develop non-food based land in Mexico to grow Jatropha curcas and commercialize oil and biomass derived from its fruit and seeds. Global Clean Energy Holdings and the joint venture partners have created a wholly-owned Mexican corporation to pursue these acquisition and development activities. Global Clean Energy Holdings, Inc. will manage the operations of the corporation and expects to consolidate the results for financial reporting purposes.

Under the terms of the joint venture, the investors will provide the capital to acquire the raw land and fund operations. The land the joint venture will plant and grow Jatropha on is non-productive land that has never been used for food production or for other agricultural purposes. __Source
Mexico's petroleum production has been dropping steadily, and the country is in need of other cash crops for export.

Meanwhile, north of the US, Canadian researchers are learning how to adapt algae for biodiesel production in conjunction with energy plants fired by coal and tar sands.
Backed by oil companies and utilities, Canadian researchers are plowing ahead with plans to develop algae farms that will convert carbon dioxide from oil sands projects and coal-fired power plants into biofuels, chemicals and fertilizers.

Algae ponds that use photosynthesis to feed on CO{-2} are common in warmer climes, but until recently, few thought they would be productive in Canada's harsh conditions. Now a consortium led by the Alberta Research Council has completed research that suggests the algae would thrive under northern light and temperatures, with an appropriate covering for winter months.

"What we are doing is transferring [the algae systems] into more temperate climes, which is a big step and something that no one ever believed would be viable; but we have demonstrated that that's not true," John McDougall, chairman of the Alberta Research Council, said in a telephone interview after presenting results of the first phase of the project to research partners. __Source
The journalistic spin on the story suggests that CO2 sequestration is the primary motive behind the Canadian project. In reality, the high prices for oil present justification enough to attempt to recycle precious CO2 emissions as bio-fuel.

The latest climate data are not reassuring to CAGW true believers. Rather than an imminent global warming, the threat is for global cooling instead. Global cooling presents far greater dangers of food shortages, reduced length of growing seasons for crops, more droughts, and a generally less hospitable environment for humans.

Al Gore is building a huge empire based upon the public's gullibility regarding climate. He has been aided by the wild-eyed Professor Hansen, the one you see on all the news and talk shows in spite of being so heavily censored by political opponents.;-) But how long can this disingenuous duo continue to dupe the media and the public?

Biofuels is not about reducing CO2. It is about providing abundant and renewable energy sources as part of an overall energy portfolio. The idea is to match local resource solutions with local problems.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

All The World's Power From These Little Dots

Can you see the black dots on the map? The dots cover the land area necessary to provide the current energy needs of the human world, given only 8% energy efficiency of the solar to electricity process used. Solar thermal gets about 30% efficiency, and most photovoltaics get close to 10% or more.
Solar thermal energy is an abundant resource most constant and plentiful in the near-equatorial desert regions of the world--such as North Africa. Europeans hungry for more energy are looking south to the African desert for electricity that may allow Europe to limp forward despite a suicidal Kyoto gesture being pushed forward by EU bureaucrats.

A small modular solar thermal plant such as this could produce 25 MW of electrical power. If you could also utilise the waste heat from the plant, your total energy production would at least double. A large power grid spanning huge distances of North Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and parts of Europe, would allow the abundant solar resource of the Sahara to be exploited by wealthier and more productive Europeans to the north. The image above depicts such a large grid that also includes other renewable energy sources available in different parts of the grid.
H/T Treehugger (from Spiegel) via Peswiki

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Biomass Energy at Work: Baseload 24/7

The world produces abundant waste biomass which humans could be using as fuel, instead of coal, oil, and gas. Forward-thinking engineers and entrepreneurs are beginning to act on this promise, without waiting for corrupt bureaucrats and politicians to give them the go-ahead.
Renegy Holdings, Inc. (Renegy) (Nasdaq:RNGY) announced today that it has successfully synchronized its 24 megawatt (MW) biomass power plant located in Snowflake, Arizona, to the electric utility grid. As of April 24, Renegy has been generating electricity from its Snowflake facility and is currently selling test power in advance of commencing full commercial operations.

...The plant is located adjacent to a recycled newsprint mill owned and operated by Catalyst Paper Corp. Fuel for the plant will be derived from wood-waste material from local green waste sites and the surrounding forests and from waste recycled paper fibers generated by the newsprint mill. The current fuel inventory at the plant site includes approximately 200,000 tons of wood waste fuel, approximately equivalent to a two-year supply. The Snowflake plant will sell its entire power output through long-term power purchase agreements in place with Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project, Arizona's two largest electric utility companies. __Money.CNN
An earlier Al Fin posting recommended Renegy as a stock prospect to watch. Andritz, an Austrian company, is involved in similar biomass to electricity projects in Europe.

Biomass to electricity is a baseload, 24/7 renewable power generation approach, unlike current wind and solar energy schemes. Until battery storage is able to effectively scale up to utility needs, we are likely to see more plants that combine solar thermal with biomass to electricity, to provide 24 hour energy needs. Using biomass in place of coal or gas should provide significant energy savings--once the infrastructure for collecting and densitizing biomass is more mature.


Biomass: Pellets

The widespread efficient utilisation of biomass to energy requires methods for increasing the energy density of the biomass. Turning loose biomass into compressed pellets is one promising approach to making biomass easier to handle. Read more here about a fascinating machine capable of making fine powders out of virtually any form of biomass, which can bagged and shipped, or processed into pellets, briquettes, or other convenient bulk form.

An entire industry is expected to grow around the pre-processing of biomass for later processing to pellets, biofuels, and electricity. In the near term, if you are using corn stover as biomass fuel to run a 50 mgy maize ethanol plant, how much area do you need to supply the necessary stover?
Lets say the plant is surrounded by corn fields. The corn yield is 150 bushels/acre, half the above ground weight of the corn plant represents grain, the other half is corn stover. If the farmer is willing to take off 50% of the corn stover each year you would have about 2.1 tons per acre available. The plant needs 132,000 tons per year. So you need about 63,000 acres to draw from. If the area is pure corn ground the radius would be 5.6 miles. __QiBioenergy
So to supply feedstock and biomass fuel to run a 50 million gallon a year maize ethanol facility, you would need a 5.6 mile radius crop circle.

Getting from here to there will require local and regional planning. Different regions grow different biomass. Logging regions obviously grow woody biomass, and produce woody bio-waste. Agricultural areas grow crop biomass such as corn stover. Marginal lands can grow switchgrass and other perennial wildgrasses adapted to biomass.

The growing, harvesting, pre-processing (pellets, bales, etc), and final processing should all be planned and controlled on a regional and local level, in reponse to local and regional needs.


Monday, April 28, 2008

12 Largest Biofuel Plants in World (For Now)

It is difficult to pin down the largest biofuel plants at this time, since so many are in the planning and early construction phases, and some of the production claims for this list may not be quite true. Even so, this is a good starting point. The main point I would like to make is that while 1st generation plants are based upon food crops as feedstock, the 2nd and 3rd generation plants are following close on their heels--and the 2nd and 3rd generation plants will be based upon non-food feedstocks such as cellulosic biomass, algal oil, and non-edible seed oils.
1. Dynoil LLC is developing a new biodiesel refinery near Houston, Texas, USA - and it might be the world’s largest. Though the development timeline is not clear, once completed the refinery will process roughly 100,000 barrels of vegetable oil each day. It is estimated it will produce 1.5 billion gallons of biodiesel fuel each year.

2. SE Energy’s proposed plant in Chesapeake, Virginia, USA. Projected production capacity: 320 million gallons per year.

3. Dominion Energy Services, LLC has broken ground for a $400-million integrated biodiesel and ethanol refinery in Innisfail, Alberta, Canada, it will consist of a combined 300 million gallon per year production facility (100 million gallon ethanol, a 100 million gallon canola crush facility and a 100 million gallon biodiesel) on commencement in the third quarter of 2008, and will use about 1 million tonnes of wheat and 900,000 tonnes of canola a year for raw residue.

4. Brasil Eco Energia, associated with David DeWind, alongside other Brazilian and US investors, plans to build the largest biodiesel plant in the world, in Brazil, using soybeans as raw residue to create 220.5 million gallons of biodiesel a year.

5. Energen Development Limited (EDL), a Jamaican firm, plans to put up a 120 million gallon per year ethanol plant in Kingston, Jamaica by end 2008.

6. Agri-Source Fuels plant in Dade City, Florida, USA. Current production: 40 million gallons of B100 biodiesel per year, and has a production capacity of 120 million gallons per year. Agri-Source Fuels will open another 18 million/gallons per year plant in Pensacola, Florida, by end of 2008.

7. Imperium Renewables plant in Grays Harbor, Washington, USA. Production capacity: 100 million gallons per year, opened on August 15, 2007, with raw product mostly oil derived from canola grown in USA and Canada.

8. Louis Dreyfus plant near Claypool, Indiana, USA. Production capacity: 250,000 gallons of biodiesel per day, which adds up to more than 80 million gallons per year.

9. Canadian Green Fuels Inc. last week announced plans to put up a new plant and upgrade its existing plant in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Proposed production capacity: 63.4 million gallons of biofuel products a year, and will run on energy it creates and is expected to produce biodiesel, biofuels, bio-oil, and bio-additives.

10. Oilsource Holding, LLC and Greenline Industries, LLC, in a joint venture, will in the first quarter of 2009, commission a 60 million gallon per year biodiesel plant in Miami, Florida, USA with production commencing in early 2010.

11. North Prairie Productions broke ground last spring on a site in Evansville, Wisconsin, USA for a biodiesel plant that will produce 45 million gallons of fuel per year on completion later in 2008.

12. Cargill plant in Iowa Falls, Iowa, USA. Current production: 37.5 million gallons a year. Built in 2006. If there is less soybeans on Iowa supermarket shelves, most of it is going to the plant courtesy of Iowa Soybean Association. __Source
While biofuels makers will move away from food crops as feedstocks--for economic reasons if for no others--for the time being the higher costs going to farmers for maize, soybeans, canola oil, and other crops will certainly help the local economies of the farm regions involved.

If farmers are smart enough to find ways to stay in the biofuels market even after it moves into more cellulosic crops and non-food oils, the current transient benefit to North American farmers could become a more permanent benefit.

Reports from Australia including this and this, suggest that Australian bioresearchers and farmers plan to get in on the bio-refinery and bio-energy world market in a significant way.

Bio-energy is one more form of solar energy, along with solar, wind, and wave energy. The biorefinery concept will simply extend the theme to include other petro-substitute chemical besides merely fuel.

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Big Algal Biodiesel and Backyard Ethanol

Some algal biodiesel researchers are claiming the potential to produce 100,000 gallons of algal biodiesel per 1 acre of land area.
Valcent Products, claims they can grow algae to produce oil yields of 100,000 gallons per acre. That’s the upper range of estimates I’ve seen for algae production—an absolutely phenomenal amount of oil—which Valcent attributes to their ‘high density vertical bioreactor’ system.
That certainly sounds ambitious, and good luck to Vertigro!

Just as interesting, perhaps, is the potential to make your own fuel ethanol in your backyard, using a home ethanol processor.
Mr. Butterfield thinks that the MicroFueler is as much a game changer as the personal computer. He says that working with Mr. Quinn’s microelectronics experts — E-Fuel now employs 15 people — has led to breakthroughs that have cut the energy requirements of making ethanol in half. One such advance is a membrane distiller, which, Mr. Quinn says, uses extremely fine filters to separate water from alcohol at lower heat and in fewer steps than in conventional ethanol refining. Using sugar as a feedstock means that there is virtually no smell, and its water byproduct will be drinkable.

...Mr. Quinn says that as of January this year, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, he can buy inedible sugar from Mexico for as little as 2.5 cents a pound, which puts the math in his favor. While this type of sugar has not been sold to consumers, E-Fuel says it is developing a distribution network for it. __NYT__via_Earth2tech
The main obstacle to energy solutions is the government. Politicians and regulators appear determined to keep the US mired in "political peak oil."

Occasionally, I only half-jokingly suggest that we should use politicians (and trial lawyers) as feedstock for unlimited thermochemical production of energy. It is difficult to see how most of them would ever make a beneficial contribution to humanity any other way.

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North Americans Learn Waste to Energy Recycling

The schematic above shows an Indiana municipal waste to ethanol production plant due to begin construction this year and be completed within two years. The idea of turning garbage and waste into energy is catching on--even in the urban environment.
The gravity pressure vessel uses high transient pressure to work at higher transient temperatures in a fast reaction chamber. Higher transient temperatures enable the use of less acid to induce short interval very weak acid hydrolysis.

The first stage of the reaction chamber at the bottom of the gravity pressure vessel is wet oxidation providing only sufficient oxygen to react with organic debris dissolved in water which will use some of the lignin and other dissolved materials to provide exothermic heat to help sustain the process. It has been observed that slightly alkaline conditions also aid in dissolving portions of the lignin from the cell walls. Cellulose fibers are known to be refractory to short duration wet oxidation at these temperatures.

The second stage of the reaction zone reduces the pH condition to initiate de-polymerization of the cellulose using carbonic acid derived from later process fermentation steps, and supplemented using sulfuric acid or maleic acid in proportions at the operator’s discretion.

The reaction time is determined by the flow rate and distance between the point of acid injection and alkali quench, which is nominally engineered to be between one and ten seconds. The de-polymerized cellulosic materials are then cooled and depressurized by returning the fluids to the surface, and then cleaned and fermented to produce ethanol. __GCC
Several other current waste to energy projects are being implemented in Austin, Greenwood South Carolina, and Vancouber BC. Even Iraq is trying to get in on the act.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Moronic Attacks Against Biofuels Are Only Driving the Price of Oil Ever Higher

Biomass to liquid fuels (BTL) is a promising approach to weaning modern societies off of petroleum. As we learn to make transportation fuels from biomass and other non-food feedstocks, it is important not to kill the infant market while it is still in the cradle. Don't be stuck on stupid. 2nd and 3rd generation biofuels and biomass offers one way out of our petroleum trap.
Biofuels already make up about 50 per cent of the extra fuel coming to the market from sources outside the Opec’s oil cartel this year. This explains why fears of a retreat from biofuels this week helped drive oil prices to record levels.

William Ramsey, deputy executive director at the IEA, said: “If we didn’t have those barrels, I am not sure where we would be getting those half a million barrels [from],” adding that Opec has said it would not raise supply.

The warning comes as the backlash from rocketing food prices has increased pressure on the European Union and the US to review their support of fuel made from crops.

The views of the IEA carry significant weight in Europe and the US and policymakers have warned that the debate about biofuels should take into account its implications for energy markets and climate change. The issue has been put on the agenda for the next G8 summit in July. __FT
Advanced biofuels are the nearest term solution to ever higher energy prices. If you kill that chance, you have doomed yourself foolishly well.


Coskata Aims for $1 a Gallon Et-OH Using Plasma

Coskata's gasification process uses a plasma "torch" to gasify biomass to syngas. The syngas is then converted to ethanol using proprietary micro-organisms.
Coskata leverages proprietary microorganisms and efficient bioreactor designs in a three-step conversion process that can turn virtually any carbon-based feedstock into ethanol, from anywhere in the world. The three steps are:

1. Gasification. Carbon-based feedstock is converted into syngas using well-established gasification technologies. In the Madison demo plant, plasma torches will super heat feedstock to 1,600°F (871°C), which creates a synthesis gas consisting of carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

At its commercial scale plants, Coskata intends to use WPC Marc-11 plasma torches, which have been proven in metallurgical and waste-to-energy commercial applications throughout the world. The Marc-11 torches have more than 500,000 hours of operation in industrial settings, including a GM foundry in Defiance, Ohio.

A smaller version, the Marc-3, will be used in Coskata’s Madison facility. A WPC Marc-3 has been used in Japan to gasify municipal solid waste for more than five years.

2. Fermentation. The syngas is cooled to about 100°F (38°C). Coskata’s proprietary microorganisms convert the cooled syngas into ethanol by consuming the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) in the gas stream.

3. Separation. Pervaporation technology separates and recovers the ethanol.

Plasma is the term given to a gas that has become ionized—i.e., one where the atoms of the gas have lost one or more electrons and have become electrically charged. Man-made plasma is formed by passing an electrical discharge though a gas such as air or oxygen. The interaction of the electric discharge and the process gas causes the temperature of the gas to increase significantly often exceeding 5,500°C (10,000°F).

WPC’s plasma torches can be fed with process gases of widely varying chemical composition including air, oxygen, nitrogen, argon and others. WPC’s plasma technology can increase the energy of the process gas to between two to ten times higher than conventional combustion. __GCC
A wide variety of gasification approaches are being taken by various biomass to liquid fuels (BTL) processors. As they compete in the marketplace, we will eventually discover how cheaply liquid biofuels can be made from cellulose and other non-food feedstocks.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Steam Explosions in Toledo

Cauffiel Technologies of Toledo, Ohio, manufactures heavy metalworking machinery. They also think they have a good solution for making fuels from cellulose--cheaply. It involves something they call a "steam explosion", which unlocks the sugars in cellulose for conversion into alcohols such as ethanol and butanol.
“Super bugs can be dangerous and must be confined,” said Cauffiel, who has developed a method known as steam explosion. The steam explosion will speed up the process of breaking down cellulosic material by helping super bugs digest material faster.

Heating the material up to 500 degrees at 500 pounds per square inch on a continuous basis causes the material to explode out of the machine and into a flash tank. The exploded material consisting of C5 and C6 sugars and lignin will be ready for the super bugs to digest easier.

“Once you have a good steam explosion, you can convert the C5 and C6 sugars into ethanol or butanol,” Cauffiel said. “Many scientists and universities around the country have heard about us, and we have received many phone calls about it.”

Because all plant life and wood products burn, the remains from the steam-explosion process can fuel the boiler to make steam and heat the tanks for super bugs with little or no additional energy required. That is a big problem when making ethanol from corn, Cauffiel said.

The challenge is to design and build machinery that will withstand the continuous high pressure and temperatures required for the process. With 55 years of experience designing and manufacturing steel-making processes and machinery, Cauffiel said he is confident his company has the solution. __ToledoFreePress __via_Check
Here is some more information on the world maize market. It seems that the consumption of meat in China has literally exploded recently. In fact Chinese meat consumption has more to do with the price of corn than biofuels.
The change in Chinese meat consumption habits since 1995 is diverting 8.0 billion bushels of grain to livestock feed — more than the entire 2.3 billion bushel harvest used to make US ethanol...China is consuming four times as much additional grain, since 1995, as the US ethanol industry, and demand is increasing by 615 million bushels per year. Even if the US ethanol industry were to go away overnight, in less than 4 years, China’s rising grain demand would wipe out the savings.
Policymakers have also cited to food riots in Mexico over rising tortilla prices as evidence of a distortion in the markets caused by ethanol’s demand for corn. __BiofuelsDigest
Maize ethanol is already obsolete. But with corn prices rising due to increasing meat consumption in the third world, maize ethanol is being priced out of the market ever more quickly.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Oil Is Still Not As Expensive as In 1981

By some measures, oil is nowhere near record price levels. According to The Economist, the pain of energy costs is still not intense enough to force the reduction in demand that would impact suppliers.
A CASUAL observer might be forgiven for thinking that the oil price reached a new record, of $115.07 a barrel, on April 16th. And so it did, in nominal terms. But by other measures, oil is not quite as expensive as it seems. That, in turn, may go some way towards explaining why demand for oil continues to rise in many countries, despite prices that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. adjustment for inflation, however it is measured, takes no account of the growth in Western consumers' incomes over the years. Back in 1981, the annual average income within the Group of Seven countries would have been enough to buy only 318 barrels of oil. To set back Western consumers by the equivalent today, Deutsche Bank calculates, the price of oil would have to rise to $134 a barrel.

By the same token, the American government reckons that energy ate up its biggest share of Americans' disposable income in 1980: 8% compared with about 6.6% now. To drive spending on energy to the same level again, says Deutsche, the price of crude would have to rise to $145.

Spending on oil as a share of global output, which is about 3.5%, also peaked in 1980, at 5.9%. Other things being equal, oil will not swallow as big a share of the world's GDP unless the price reaches $150 a barrel. Economist
Okay, so by some gauges, oil needs to go above $150 a barrel to inflict record levels of pain on the US and global economies. I do not expect that to happen within the next year or two, although I have been known to be wrong once in the past.

As long as people believe that the US is in a deep depression, and that oil costs have never been higher, the people who control the gateway of information--and the people who could actually make things worse if they wanted--will probably be satisfied.

H/T Technology Review

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Methane Clathrates (Hydrates) and More on BTL

Up to 2500 gigatonnes of methane clathrates exist frozen in deep sea sedimentary rock. That is roughly ten times more than known global reserves of natural gas. It may take some time to develop the safest and most efficient ways of mining this methane ice.
One problem with extracting this methane is that you have to melt the ice to bring the gas to the surface. In 2002, a team of geologists from Canada and Japan tried injecting hot water into the ice beneath the delta of the McKenzie river in northern Canada. While this released some hydrates, it used a lot of energy.

Now the same group has extracted methane much more efficiently, and without hot water, by pumping air out of drill holes in the frozen structures. This reduced the pressure, and so raised the melting temperature of the ice so the methane could be removed.

The state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, which announced the test results, wants to extract the 7 trillion tonnes of methane thought to be trapped in hydrates in Japanese coastal waters. It hopes this will be the answer to Japan's century-long search for an indigenous source of fuel. Last month, the government approved a plan to commercialise the extraction of the fuel within a decade. __NS
And here is more about the University of Massachussetts' George Huber, and his campaign to make biomass to liquid fuels (BTL) a major player in the energy industry.
Using a catalyst commonly employed in the petroleum industry, Huber and his colleagues heated small amounts of cellulose very quickly for a matter of seconds before cooling it, producing a high-octane liquid similar to gasoline. “The temperature window is very critical,” Huber says. If you heat too slowly, you produce mainly coke—elemental carbon residue. If you heat too fast, you make mainly vapors. The sweet spot, about 1000 degrees per second, transfers roughly half the cellulose’s energy into hydrocarbons. “If we can get 100 percent yield, we estimate the cost to be about a dollar per gallon,” Huber says. “Right now we’re at 50 percent. Can we get 100 percent? I don’t know. Hopefully we’ll bump those numbers up.”
Finding better ways to exploit the plentiful energy sources around us, is a potentially lucrative challenge for industry--and a test for western governments. If the US Congress cannot break its fixation on the idea of returning the superpower to the stone age through idiotic energy policy, the US government will certainly fail the test.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

National Oil Companies a Poor Substitute for Competent Energy Corporations

When Saudi Arabia and most of the other oil dictatorships threw out the multi-nationals and took over oil production themselves, the ability of the oil industry to react to surges in demand dropped precipitously. The competence is simply not there in nationalised oil and gas companies. Current skyrocketing oil prices are certain to create unpleasant blowback to Saudi Arabia's oil industry and the other incompetent nationalised oil industries. Still they try:
Saudi Arabia is planning to boost its oil production capacity by nearly 20 per cent in the next two years but its long-term target is to maximise its recoverable crude resources, according to the state-owned Saudi Aramco.

The Kingdom, which already controls nearly a quarter of the world’s extractable crude deposits, will focus on intelligent fields and other advanced oil production techniques to achieve that objective, said Amin Nasser, Exploration and Production Director at Saudi Aramco....

Mohammed Saggaf, Manager of Saudi Aramco’s Advanced Research Centre, put the Kingdom’s oil in place at 722 billion barrels, of which nearly 109 billion barrels have been produced since Aramco began pumping crude 75 years ago.....But he said the total amount of oil that can be produced with present technology is around 260 billion barrels....“Saudi Aramco’s long-term goal is two-fold, we want to increase total oil in place to 900 billion barrels by 2020 and to push the limits of recovery from around 50 per cent to 70 per cent in our major producing fields, using both improved conventional recovery and enhanced oil recovery,” he said.

“Globally, the average ratio of recoverable reserves to oil in place is mostly 30 to 40 per cent, with a level of 50 per cent. Saudi Aramco is already doing much better than the average. We intend to go further and push the limit to achieve recovery rates of 70 per cent.”
The only way Saudi Arabia could meet such goals is to turn over much of its operation to international oil production companies and consulting corporations. National oil companies such as Saudi Arabia's suffer from a pronounced laxity in maintenance practise, as well as managerial and technical incompetence to meet the rapidly changing demands of the oil markets on individual companies and oil fields.

Oil production companies have to anticipate changes in demand and have "ready plans" in place for instant execution. Unfortunately for the oil companies of the Arab and Muslim world, as well as much of Latin America, the competence and trained manpower is simply not there.

As oil prices flirt with benchmarks of $120 a barrel and higher, the potential blowback to these totalitarian energy potentates is growing immense.


1st Generation to 2nd Generation Biofuels

We are just now entering the era of cellulosic fuels, according to a new report from Research and Markets. The transition from 1st generation biofuel (using foods as feedstock) to 2nd generation biofuel (using biomass and other non-food feedstock) is underway. While maize ethanol plants can survive by clever cost-cutting, eventually the economics of biofuels will drive producers to use lower cost feedstocks such as biomass.
  1. - The US biofuel industry especially ethanol production is expected to lead the global production during the forecasted period of 2008-2017.
  2. - Corn is anticipated to dominate the [Ed: near] future ethanol production in the US, however, cellulosic ethanol requirements are expected to boom during the period 2008-2017.
  3. - US biodiesel sector need strong support from the government as well as from technology point of view to sustain growth in future.
  4. - Biodiesel prices in the US are expected to see a declining trend to push up commercial usage during 2008-2015.
  5. - Supply of raw material (corn and soybean oil) will be a major concern for the US biofuel industry in coming years. Source_via_BusinessWire
Here again, we see a mixture of valid conclusion and popular misconception. Biocellulosic alcohols will lead one charge away from "food as feedstock." Biomass to liquids (BTL) will lead another--ultimately much larger--charge away from foods for feedstocks. Biodiesel from algae and non-edible oilseeds such as jatropha, is yet one more important leap from "foods as feedstocks" to foods and food-prices as a non-issue. Cellulosic electricity--substituting biomass for coal in co-generation plants--is yet another way that bioenergy will help to reduce oil costs--and thus reduce food costs.

Zeachem, Coskata, and a number of other small to medium bio-fuel plants will bring cellulosic biofuel product to market starting within the next year. In Europe, Choren is ready to bring BTL biodiesel to market, and looking to expand within North America in the next year.

Biomass, farm waste, agricultural waste, forestry waste, municipal waste, and industrial waste, are all available for making important contributions to the energy supply. It is a matter of making the necessary technological and managerial adjustments that will allow more industries and regions to take advantages of these resources which are currently going to waste.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Flow Cells for Home Energy Use

Flow cell batteries represent a technology that is more often touted as a utility load-leveling tool. But a home-scale version of a flow cell battery is being sent to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, as part of the Zero Net Energy Future House USA display.
... the cell's design is different than a traditional battery, with fluid charged with electrolytes flowing past its cell membranes, said Kevin Dennis, vice president of sales and marketing for ZBB.

"There are a couple of advantages (with this design)," he said. "Once the cell is charged, you can turn it off. A battery is always on." ZBB's fuel cells are designed for large energy efficient homes, commercial and industrial properties and power relay stations. When they're not in use, ZBB Energy's fuel cells discharge at a much slower rate than batteries, Dennis said. The fuel cells are rechargeable, and can be recharged many more times than rechargeable batteries. "We design fuel cells like this on the order of 20 to 30 years," he said. "You will have to replace the (cell) membrane in about 10 years. The cycles are on the order of thousands."

The ZESS 50 is ZBB Energy's 50 kWh energy storage module. ZBB Energy also makes the ZESS 500, which can store up to 500 k Wh. ZBB Energy has piloted its fuel cells for the past four years, Dennis said, and began production earlier this year. The company, which has 38 employees, manufactures the fuel cells from its 72,000 square foot facility in Menomonee Falls.

The Future House USA will be part of the Future House Village, a neighborhood of eco-friendly demonstration homes created by teams from Canada, China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United States. The high-visibility program is designed to promote energy-saving strategies and construction that will have a minimal impact on the global environment. __Source
The term "fuel cell" is a misnomer for this technology. The proper term is Zinc-Bromine "redox flow cell (PDF)." Presumably, the company uses the term "fuel cell" in its press releases due to greater public familiarity with the term (if not the underlying concept).

Matsushita in Japan produces a true home fuel cell, which will be placed outside some Japanese homes starting next year.

It is highly likely that both home fuel cells and home flow cells will enjoy much higher rates of utilisation within the next ten years, than most energy analysts anticipate. The main technological obstacle to greater utilisation of redox flow-cells is the low energy density. For that reason, it is likely that the larger uses of the technology will be for utility and industrial scale power backup and load leveling. Eventually, flow cells should move downscale to commercial buildings, hotels, apartments and condominiums, and single family residences.

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Oregon Geothermal Projects Heat Up

Enhanced geothermal energy involves drilling deeply into the Earth's crust to hot rocks, then injecting water in one hole and withdrawing steam from an adjacent hole--to drive a steam turbine powered electrical generator. The western US contains a large number of likely sites for both enhanced geothermal, and more conventional geothermal--which relies upon pre-existing pressurized hot water to steam geothermal processes.
The state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries this year issued three new permits for drilling geothermal wells, an early step in developing power plants that turn underground heat into electrical power. A fourth permit will probably be issued soon, said Bob Houston, a state geologist.

They are the first geothermal permits issued in Oregon in a decade or more, he said, and signal a new push for geothermal power driven by increasing demand for clean, renewable energy.

...At least three companies are planning geothermal power plants in Oregon, and one could be producing electricity in less than two years, officials said. The recent failure of Congress to extend tax breaks for renewable energy makes financing the plants more challenging but should not derail them entirely, officials said.

Interest so far is focused most closely on known hot spring areas in eastern Oregon:

The best-known site is Newberry Crater near Bend, where Connecticut-based Davenport Power just received permits to drill two exploratory wells. The company has signed a 20-year contract with California's Pacific Gas & Electric to sell 120 megawatts of power annually from the project, enough to light about 80,000 homes.

U.S. Geothermal of Boise recently received a permit to drill an exploratory well on private land at Neal Hot Springs, west of Vale near the Idaho border. If the first well verifies the hot-water reservoir the company expects, three more wells and a power plant estimated at 26 megawatts in size will follow, officials said.

Raser Technologies of Provo, Utah, plans construction of a 10-megawatt power plant in Klamath County, near the California border, in the next 18 months. The company also has leased 73,000 acres of land owned by International Paper in Oregon for potential geothermal development.

The Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls is proposing installation of a geothermal power plant that would make it the only college campus in the world completely powered by local renewable energy, according to John Lund, director of the Geo-Heat Center at OIT. ___Oregonian
In the short run, the more immediately profitable conventional geothermal processes will predominate. But as energy prices remain high on the world markets, the incentive to push forward to the "enhanced geothermal" or hot-rock technologies will become irresistible.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Reducing Petroleum Demand: Synthetic Biology and Bio-Plastics

Craig Venter claims that his synthetic biology venture may produce an artificial bio-energy factory as early as the next few years. The overall field of synthetic biology is certainly capable of attracting top talent and financing.
Researchers will gather in London this week to outline plans to promote one of the most audacious, and controversial, scientific ideas of the 21st century - synthetic biology.

The new discipline, established by scientists such as human genome pioneer Craig Venter, involves stripping microbes down to their basic genetic constituents so they can be reassembled and manipulated to create new life forms. These organisms can then be exploited to manufacture drugs and fuels or to act as bio-sensors inside the body.

...The crucial point, said Holliger, who will be speaking at this week's conference, Engineering Life, is that 'scientists are now learning how to design life down to the last letter. We don't know enough to be sophisticated as yet but our knowledge is increasing all the time.'

Most scientists working on synthetic biology projects - including Holliger - say that their research is safe and stress its potential benefits. 'Synthetic biology represents a new approach to engineering,' said Professor Richard Kitney of Imperial College London, another speaker at the meeting, which will debate the risks and ethics of synthetic biology. 'It has brought us to the cusp of a new industrial revolution in which new fuels, drugs, medical treatments and sensors can be created from biological materials.'

One idea is the creation of organisms that could soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into hydrocarbon biofuels. __Source
Yep. Of course, once you tame the little beasties, you can pretty much get them to make anything you want. ;-)

The bio-plastics industry provides another way to reduce demand for petroleum--the primary feedstock for plastics.
Bioplastics are biodegradable and can be made from a wide range of different plants. In the future genetically modified plants will need less water and reduce the costs. Bioplastics has the potential to reduce the petroleum consumption for plastic by 15 to 20 percent in 2025. Improved technical properties and innovations open new markets and applications with higher profit potentials in automotive, medicine and electronics. ___Source
Biology provides many approaches to reducing demand for petroleum--thus easing some of the pressures on worldwide petroleum prices and food prices. Biomass CHP, cellulosic electricity, cellulosic alcohol fuels, biomass to liquid fuels (BTL), bio-oils, bio-diesel, and waste to energy, among many approaches currently being explored.

An enlightened society would welcome all these approaches to reducing food and fuel costs, rather than scapegoating the entire bio-energy industry.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Peak Oil: Meet Pork Fat Biodiesel!

US pork producing company Seaboard Foods has officially started up, and delivered its first product shipment of pork fat biodiesel the second week of April.
High Plains is colocated with Seaboard’s pork processing facility to more easily use pork fat. The High Plains facility was designed to use multiple feedstocks, but Eaheart said anything other than pork fat will depend on its availability and market price. Pork fat is the plant’s feedstock of choice for now.

Eaheart said the biodiesel facility is part of Seaboard’s plan to be a fully vertically integrated company. Seaboard owns everything from the farms on up, he said, so it “makes sense” to begin producing biodiesel with pork fat from the processing plant. “Biodiesel adds to the element of using everything,” he said. BiodieselMag
The combination of biofuels production with other processes will become more common, as industry discovers many previously wasted forms of energy. Previous articles at Al Fin have discussed the conversion of animal waste to biofuels. Garbage and sewage sludge are being converted into bio-energy in more locations every year. Agricultural and forest waste are becoming valuable bio-energy resources. The trend is from waste to energy.

The sooner governments understand that it is best to let the markets work, the sooner they will get away from destructive and counter-productive mandates and tariffs, such as the ones that have put bio-ethanol in the US into a no-win limbo state.


2nd Generation Bio-Energy--Moving Away from the Needless Scapegoating of Biofuels

When faced with high energy costs you can either waste your time on irrelevant diversions and scapegoating, or you can spend your time more productively in solving the problems. Bio-energy can be an important solution to local and regional energy needs--without using food-for-fuel, or otherwise causing food shortages or price hikes.
Toward the end of the year, the plant at Freiberg will go into operation, fed primarily with old, untreated bits of lumber and other scrap wood. It will take approximately five tons of dry material to produce one ton of fuel. The small refinery will consume nearly 70,000 tons of waste wood a year. “It should be pretty easy for us to get our hands on this amount,” says Michael Deutmeyer, who is responsible for supplying biomass to Choren.

It will be considerably more challenging to keep up with the needs for raw materials at the full-scale refineries Choren is planning to build. The first of these larger plants should go into service in 2012 in the eastern German city of Schwedt, right near the border with Poland. The planned facility will produce 200,000 tons of BTL diesel a year - and devour a million tons of wood and other dry material. Waste products alone won’t be enough to satisfy this hearty appetite.

To meet this increased demand, Deutmeyer is planning to plant trees. Wood is the most suitable raw material for biofuel processing. Three years ago, just east of Schwerin, the capital of the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Choren converted 20 hectares (50 acres) into experimental “rapid sapling-to-sawmill plantations,” where willows and other fast-growing trees are flourishing.Such cultivation, says Deutmeyer, requires significantly smaller amounts of pesticides and fertilizers than crops like rapeseed. This type of forestry also reaps considerable public subsidies. The Ministry of Agriculture in the state of Brandenburg has already indicated that it will provide government funds for the plantations destined to supply the wood for a plant to be built in Schwedt. Up to 45 percent of the investments for saplings, preparations and soil-improvement measures will derive their financing from state coffers.

The experimental fields in Mecklenburg have already been harvested once, the trees reduced to wood chips by a special chopper from Sweden. The results look very promising. Annual yields of up to 20 tons of dry material per hectare can be harvested from good soils. This would work out to a top production rate of four metric tons - or 5,000 liters - of BTL diesel. Until now, rapeseed fields that are comparable in area have only yielded 1,500 liters. Spiegel
Clearly, bioenergy

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thermal Solar Finally Breaks Through the Clouds

It has been obvious to most thinking persons for several years, that solar thermal is a more reasonable approach to utility-scale solar plants at this time. This is due to the need to match energy production to energy use. Photovoltaics cannot provide good matching, until utility scale electrical storage becomes affordable to utilities and energy producers. Solar thermal can provide good matching now--with existing methods of thermal storage.
Batteries are not up to efficiently storing energy on a large scale. A different approach being tried by the solar power industry could eliminate the problem.

The idea is to capture the sun’s heat. Heat, unlike electric current, is something that industry knows how to store cost-effectively. For example, a coffee thermos and a laptop computer’s battery store about the same amount of energy, said John S. O’Donnell, executive vice president of a company in the solar thermal business, Ausra. The thermos costs about $5 and the laptop battery $150, he said, and “that’s why solar thermal is going to be the dominant form.”

Solar thermal systems are built to gather heat from the sun, boil water into steam, spin a turbine and make power, as existing solar thermal power plants do — but not immediately. The heat would be stored for hours or even days, like water behind a dam.

A plant that could store its output could pick the time to sell the production based on expected price, as wheat farmers and cattle ranchers do. Ausra, of Palo Alto, Calif., is making components for plants to which thermal storage could be added, if the cost were justified by higher prices after sunset or for production that could be realistically promised even if the weather forecast was iffy. Ausra uses Fresnel lenses, which have a short focal length but focus light intensely, to heat miles of black-painted pipe with a fluid inside.

...At Black & Veatch, a builder of power plants, Larry Stoddard, the manager of renewable energy consulting, said that with a molten salt design, “your turbine is totally buffered from the vagaries of the sun.” By contrast, “if I’ve got a 50 megawatt photovoltaic plant, covering 300 acres or so, and a large cloud comes over, I lose 50 megawatts in something like 100 to 120 seconds,” he said, adding, “That strikes fear into the hearts of utility dispatchers.”

Thermal storage using molten salt can work in a system like Ausra’s, with miles of piping, but if the salt is spread out through a serpentine pipe, rather than held in a heavily insulated tank, it has to be kept warm at night so it does not solidify, among other complications.

A tower design could also allow for operation at higher latitudes or places with less sun. Designers could simply put in bigger fields of mirrors, proponents say. A small start-up, eSolar, is pursuing that design, backed by Google, which has announced a program to try to make renewable electricity for less than the price of coal-fired power. __NYT
The particular design for large scale heat storage will probably vary with the location and utility needs. But the underlying idea of storing heat instead of electricity may just make solar electricity competitive with coal fired electrical plants, at long last.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Oil Megaprojects: Production Holds its Own +

Brian Wang presents an impressive look at oil and gas "megaprojects" for this year and beyond.
The complete list of megaprojects at the wikipedia [oil megaprojects] is for over 13 million barrels per day added. Plus there is all of the small 200-25000 barrel per day small wells. Like several hundred in the Bakken to offset any 4.5% decline. Ten of thousands of small rigs. As pointed out by Dan a reader, 2006, 2007 were flat oil production years so roughly 3.5-4 million b/d of megaprojects has gone to offsetting decline. So 3 to 3.5 million b/d is the projected excess from 2008, 2009. So it would be 6-7 million barrels per day to be added net of any decline for the end of 2009 and into 2010 as those new additions scale up. If the increase in large projects also indicates more small projects then say 0.5-1.5 million b/d each year from that increase.

So if we are 87.3 million b/d Jan 2008. Then my prediction is a little over 90 million b/d at the end of 2008 (not the full 3.5-5 million b/d increase because of lag in scaling) For the end of 2009, over 94 million b/d and for the end of 2010, over 97 million b/d. __NextBigFuture

Check out Brian's full posting for much more information.

If you combine the information that Brian provides, with the information from yesterday's posting, you will see that Peak Oil predictions will almost certainly be off by decades, not just years.

Now, we need for bio-energy, nuclear energy, solar energy, enhanced geothermal energy, ocean energy, and wind energy to begin to kick in over the next several year time span.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

A World Without Peak Oil?

As peak oil predictions fall by the wayside, oil production continues to find a way to meet skyrocketing demand. Oil prices go up for many reasons. But the higher the price, the more the incentive for new ways to pump more oil that no one expected would be there.
Pumping oil is surprisingly inefficient: For decades, companies relied on ground pressure and crude secondary well-flooding methods that recovered just one-third of a field’s reserves. Now, through enhanced oil recovery techniques, companies can collect up to three-quarters, dramatically lengtheninga field’s useful life. — D.C.

CO2 Injecting carbon dioxide into the ground increases reservoir pressure and the fluidity of heavy, gummy oil, enabling it to escape rock pores and flow toward wells. It takes about 8000 cu. ft. of CO2 to get an extra barrel of oil.

STEAM Injected steam reduces oil’s viscosity, which increases flow rates. Shell claims that in the past decade steam injection has enabled it to produce more than a billion additional barrels of oil from a California field discovered in 1911.

CHEMICAL Surfactants can form a soapy film in the well, lubricating oil so it flows to well bores. A quarter of the oil from China’s massive Daqing field, which produces more than 1 million barrels per day, is recovered by this means.

MICROBES When introduced into an oil reservoir, microbes plug small channels in the rock, forcing oil through larger pores. They also generate surfactants and carbon dioxide. One Texas field boosted production by 43 percent—but it took two years.

ULTRASOUND In a recent development, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., has conducted lab tests on a device that is mounted on well-bore pipes, where it uses ultrasound to heat flowing oil, rendering it less viscous. __PopMech

Only 120 of the world's 4000 active oil and natural gas fields satisfy a remarkable 40 percent of total global consumption. Based on data compiled by geoscientists at the University of Texas, this map pinpoints 932 giant fields—those with estimated reserves of at least 500 million barrels of ultimately recoverable oil or gas equivalent. Although discoveries of these megafields peaked in the 1970s, drillers using new technologies have located 69 new giants since 1999 and anticipate finding up to 33 more before the end of the decade. Below are the biggest hits of the past eight years, including major discoveries within our own borders that could help reduce imports of foreign oil.
Davin Coburn

Oil prices are at the foundation of all other prices, in a transportation society. Food prices are not caused by biofuels. High food prices come from high oil prices. Of course, high oil prices also stimulate the quest for oil alternatives, and eventually the market will find a way to make suitable liquid fuels from biological sources.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reviving Dead Oil Wells

According to oil microbiologist Lewis Brown, 2/3s of oil in US oil wells remains in the ground, for lack of advanced enough technology to extract it. Brown is learning how to take oil wells that have been declared dead, and bring them back to life.
Before Brown began his Alabama experiment, analysts had predicted those wells would stop producing in 1998. After Brown had applied his method, follow-up analysis indicated the wells could still produce--and might continue to do so until 2015...To date, the Alabama project has recovered more than 400,000 additional barrels. "This process has us talking about potentially recovering much of the now unrecoverable oil," Brown said. "This will help give us more time to develop replacements for our major energy source."

...By feeding only indigenous microbes in the oil-bearing formations, Brown avoids problems that can plug the wells. While limiting the amount of environmentally friendly nutrients limits their growth, it successfully alters the paths of injected water used to sweep the hiding oil from previously untouched areas.

In addition to being environmentally friendly, the process is cost-effective, Brown observed. In a recent field trial, the additional cost of the process was just $1.32 per barrel of new oil...Though there are limits to the depths at which microbes can be expected to grow, Brown has been able to isolate microbes at depths of more than 14,000 feet, and some can even grow at temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius.

"This certainly extends the number of oil fields where this methodology could be applied," Brown said proudly.

While Brown continues to work with petroleum industry leaders in removing additional oil from the ground, he has launched a second project in Wyoming to revive depleted natural gas wells located in coal beds. As with the liquid product, he's using indigenous microflora in these wells to produce more methane. __Source__via__NextEnergy
Advanced oil recovery methods are yet another factor that Peak Oil Prophets had not counted on. Peak Oil collects a ragged and pathetic following, that seems to revel in the imagined collapse of civilisation.

But scientists such as Brown can not waste their time on such absurd fantasies. He has work to do. After all, the oil won't pump itself.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Biomass to Fuel Direct Conversion

Two teams of scientists recently demonstrated methods of direct production of hydrocarbon fuel from biomass cellulose. The direct conversion process also releases extra heat which can be used to generate additional electricity from the process.
Researchers have made a breakthrough in the development of "green gasoline," a liquid identical to standard gasoline yet created from sustainable biomass sources like switchgrass and poplar trees.

James Dumesic and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison announce an integrated process for creating chemical components of jet fuel using a green gasoline approach... For their new approach, the UMass researchers rapidly heated cellulose in the presence of solid catalysts, materials that speed up reactions without sacrificing themselves in the process. They then rapidly cooled the products to create a liquid that contains many of the compounds found in gasoline.

The entire process was completed in under two minutes using relatively moderate amounts of heat. The compounds that formed in that single step, like naphthalene and toluene, make up one fourth of the suite of chemicals found in gasoline. The liquid can be further treated to form the remaining fuel components or can be used "as is" for a high octane gasoline blend.

...Not only is the method a compact way to treat a great deal of biomass in a short time, Regalbuto emphasized that the process, in principle, does not require any external energy. "In fact, from the extra heat that will be released, you can generate electricity in addition to the biofuel," he said. "There will not be just a small carbon footprint for the process; by recovering heat and generating electricity, there won't be any footprint." (reported in April 7, 2008 issue of Chemistry & Sustainability, Energy & Materials) ___TechNewsDaily
So we have yet another method of thermochemical conversion of biomass to liquid fuels.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Is Jatropha a "Dream Fuel?" We'll See

According to some researchers, Jatropha Curcus can produce four times the fuel per area than soy, and ten times more than maize. My Dream Fuel LLC in La Belle, Florida, is gambling that jatropha will work as well in the US as it is beginning to work in other parts of the world.
Nearly 1 million seedlings are in the ground at a nursery in Hendry County and promoters are looking for farmers – here and across the country – to raise them as oil-producing plants....Researchers say the plant can produce four times more fuel per acre than soy, and 10 times more than corn.

...The Jatropha tree, native to Mexico and Latin America, has been grown in other countries, such as India and Africa, for fuel and medicine. It produces fruit with oily seeds that can be crushed to make biodiesel.

In India, there are large plantations with millions of Jatropha trees and My Dream Fuel has a contract with the government to train 1,500 farmers to grow the trees. In China, there are now more than 1 million acres of Jatropha growing.

Locally, Dalton has so much faith in the trees that he expects to put another 1 million in the ground in LaBelle before June. ___Source__via__NextEnergy
Bio-energy will be an actively expanding area for small to medium scale investment in new business enterprise. The demand for new fuel is being driven by the international oil market, as well as by environmentalist restrictions on oil drilling and refinery construction in the US.

A regional approach to bio-energy is the wise approach. Each new enterprise should be based upon the needs of the particular region, and its bio-assets. Jatropha will not grow in areas that are subject to frost, so are not an answer for regions too far away from the tropics. Switchgrass, on the other hand, can be grown in cold and arid regions, and can be converted into almost any hydrocarbon fuel using gasification methods. Not quite as economical as jatropha for diesel, certainly, but with the price of oil ever rising, it makes sense to start looking at processes that were uneconomical when oil was under $40 a barrel.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Profit-Based Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Startup 2009

Range Fuels Inc. will begin producing 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year in 2009, with plans to scale up to 120 million gpy. The plant will use gasification to convert biomass to syngas. Then the syngas will be converted to liquid fuels--initially ethanol.
Range Fuels says their facility will break down any type of plant material (eg agricultural waste or wood chips) by a two-step thermochemical process. This differs from competing methods of producing cellulosic ethanol, which involve breakdown of plant material with heat and/or acid, and treating it with costly ($0.50/gallon) enzymes.

Range Fuels skips the enzymatic part and uses a process similar to Coskata Inc.: biomass is broken down by extreme heat and pressure, which converts it into a mixture of gases (H2 and CO) called syngas. The syngas is fed through proprietary catalysts that converts it into a mixture of alcohols, and a bit more sorting and processing produces a renewable vehicle fuel. See Range Fuel’s interactive explanation (as depicted above).

  1. * Fuel production costs “significantly less” than either enzymatic cellulosic ethanol or corn-grain ethanol, the latter of which currently costs about $2/gallon.
  2. * Higher fuel production rates for each ton of biomass than enzymatic and corn-grain ethanol, which decreases cost, biomass needed, and land use.
  3. * Uses 75 percent less water than corn ethanol and 60% lower emissions than corn-grain ethanol
  4. * Cost competitive with gasoline as long as oil stays above $50/barrel.
Range Fuels is in a race with Coskata to be the first to produce large scale cellulosic ethanol by an affordable and sustainable process. Coskata claims to be on track to begin production by the end of this year. Both companies appear to have secured sufficient financing to build pilot production plants using gasification technology.

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Biomass Gasifiction: The Road to Rational Bioenergy

Gasification of biomass promises to be the best route for small to medium scale regional energy independence. For the purposes of most people, thinking locally and regionally is far more intelligent than trying to solve all the world's or nation's energy problems in one fell swoop. Intelligent bio-energy is both accessible and affordable. It should be at the top of the list for areas such as North America that are blessed by a prolific biosphere.

Qi-Bioenergy blog has a good assortment of April 1st postings that are not jokes. They are part of the patchwork quilt of approaches to bio-energy that can take a tremendous financial burden off of many regions of the continent (and world) while pumping in much needed financial stimulus the old-fashioned way--letting the market work.
Gasification is currently the best approach to start off the process of biomass to bio-energy. Plasma gasification may be the best all-purpose approach for the widest variety of feedstocks. Here is a description of Skygas, one of many approaches to gasification:
Skygas™ is the code name for an innovative technology for the disposal/gasification of carbonaceous wastes. It is a newly developed electric arc conversion process that converts solid and semi-solid waste into clean, medium BTU synthesis gas that can be used for steam production or direct fired gas turbine generation of electric power. The composition of the gas (primarily CO and H2) are useful building block chemicals. They can be taken through well-known chemical processing steps to produce products such as methanol and acetic acid, or downstream chemicals such as formaldehyde, acetic anhydride, vinyl acetate, acetate esters and many others. The reducing gas may also be combined with nitrogen to produce chemicals such as ammonia and urea.

The electric arcs produced in the primary reactor by three electrodes are sufficiently energetic to cause the generation of ionic reactive species by homolytic bond cleavage. Both the carbonaceous materials and the water molecules can be broken into ionic reactive species. These species will react in a chain reaction with other feed molecules to form still more ionic reactive species and cause the breakage of more chemical bonds. The net result of these ionic homolytic reactions is the conversion of the relatively high molecular carbonaceous feed material into low molecular gas products, primarily carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane. ___Skygas__via__Qi-bioenergy
Following the flow diagrams above, the synthesis gas can be either used to drive a gas turbine, to create steam, to make hydrogen, alcohol fuels, gasoline and diesel fuels, or to generate electrical power. The image at the top of this post comes from BRI Energy, which is one of the many small companies at the forefront of developing biomass energy from waste products and other non-food materials.

Recent criticism of bio-energy from Time magazine and other media outlets only serve to emphasize the disconnect between the pioneers and informed observers of bio-energy and the lazy and ignorant media analysts who keep the public in ignorance of this valuable resource. As ligno-cellulose bio-waste resources are more easily converted into useful energy and fuel resources, the usefulness of biomass energy will become more difficult to conceal and obfuscate.

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Looking For Oil Under the Lava Flows--New Oil Exploration Technology Opens New Frontiers

Huge quantities of oil lie in sediments that have been covered by volcanic activity over hundreds of millions of years of geologic upheaval. New methods of "seeing through" lava flows on the ocean floor--to the rich sediments below--are bringing previously hidden regions of the planet's undersea surface into the oil exploration game.
The scientists, led by Professor Robert White, FRS at the University of Cambridge (UK), also developed a new method of seeing through the thick lava flows beneath the seafloor to the sediments and structures beneath. The technique is now being employed to further oil exploration of the area which was previously restricted by the inability to image through the lava flows.

The research was funded by a university-industry research group, which included Cambridge and Liverpool Universities, Schlumberger Cambridge Research Ltd and Badley Geoscience Ltd, with major funding input from WesternGeco, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Department of Trade and Industry, and eight oil companies.

...The researchers’ findings [...] have implications for oil exploration in the region. Large volumes of oil have already been discovered (and are being extracted) in the sediments under the seabed between the Shetland Islands and the Faroe Islands. If these same sediments extend westward towards the Faroe Islands, as geological models suggest they do, there may be more oil to be found.

Conventional exploration techniques have not been able to penetrate the thick layers of lava flows that poured over them at the time the North Atlantic broke open. Techniques developed in conjunction with the mapping research enable the penetration of the molten rock layer to the sediments and structures that lie beneath them.___GCC
Peak Oil theory is based upon ignorance: Ignorance of the true extent of oil formations under most of the surface of the Earth. Only North America has been fairly well explored for oil, and even there, large new fields are still being found. The age of oil is far from over.

Which is a good thing, since neither renewable energy nor nuclear energy are ready to provide the fuels and power currently being provided by oil and gas. Oil will be absolutely necessary during the next few decades, to bridge into the new era of renewables, safe fission, and hopefully controlled fusion.

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