Sunday, December 28, 2008

South Korea to Build 12 New Nuclear Plants

South Korea has announced an important new investment in energy production, including plans to build 12 new nuclear plants and 19 new fossil fuel thermoelectric plants.
It plans to spend 37 trillion won (28.5 billion dollars) from 2009 through 2022 in constructing 12 commercial reactors and 19 thermoelectric power plants, the ministry of knowledge economy said in a statement.

The ministry said 12 new nuclear power plants -- including eight under construction -- will be completed by 2012.

Eleven of the thermoelectric power plants to be built by 2022 would be fuelled by liquefied natural gas, seven by coal and one by fuel oil, it said.

South Korea, which relies heavily on oil imports, has tried to reduce its dependence on crude, diversify energy sources and cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases amid increasing power demand at home.

The country now has 20 commercial nuclear reactors and 85 thermoelectric power plants fuelled by either coal, gas or oil.

Nuclear power plants meet 34 percent of the country's total electricity demand this year, and they will cover 48 percent by 2022, the ministry said. _Energy-Daily
Every nation that considers its future seriously, will need to commit to nuclear power, and coal -- particularly if it has coal deposits under its own territory. Idiots and fools will gamble on wind energy. The unserious will gamble on large scale solar without utility scale storage. But the sane and the serious will be forced to commit to nuclear and coal -- preferably coal by gasification.

In the long run, large-scale solar (with storage), enhanced geothermal, advanced bio-energy, and nuclear fusion, will all carry humans cleanly and energetically for as long as the race survives. For the short and intermediate terms, fossil fuels and nuclear fission will be the workhorses of intelligent societies that wish to survive past the fossil fuel age.

Carbon hysterics such as Al Gore, the IPCC, the EU climate bureaucracies, and the idiots making up much of Obama's incoming administration, have no clue about either the climate, or the energy needs of thriving, healthy societies. Best to bypass them at every opportunity.


US Nuclear Industry Faces Manpower Shortage

The median age of an employee in the nuclear-energy field is 48, and up to 35 percent of the industry's workers may be eligible to retire within five years. _Forbes
Nuclear energy is experiencing a resurgence worldwide. The need for clean and abundant electrical power is growing in the US and the western world. Universities in the US are beginning to gear up to produce more nuclear power engineers, a specialist that is in short supply.
Universities and colleges are developing or restarting nuclear-education programs, often working with energy companies to replenish the industry's aging work force in anticipation of new plants going online to meet increasing electricity demand.

...Energy companies are also applying to build new plants, Berrigan said, and the licensing process itself requires more workers. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received 17 license applications since 2007, and five reactor design proposals have either been certified or are in the certification process.

...Nationwide, enrollment in undergraduate nuclear engineering programs rose to more than 1,900 in 2006-07, up from 470 in 1998-99; graduate enrollment grew from 220 to more than 1,150, NEI figures show.

...Anticipating more U.S. nuclear power plant construction, French firm Areva SA will work with Northrop Grumman Corp. to build a $360 million plant in Newport News to make large reactor parts. Areva's design has been selected for six reactors awaiting NRC approval. _Forbes
Obama is certainly out of his league, whenever a situation requires more than mere talk. It is hoped that somewhere among the large crowd of corrupt and inept cronies the narcissist elect is bringing to Washington from Chicago, that somewhere someone who understands energy will begin to make wise decisions. Perhaps it will be Chu, or someone else. The morons in Obama's choir of circular jerkulators are in no position to help anyone, and so far, the jerkulators have had the loudest voices of the crew.


Friday, December 26, 2008

In-Situ Coal to Methane via Microbes & More

Luca Technologies has raised almost $76 million to turn inaccessible coal into methane for safe and clean extraction. Luca will use injected micro-organisms to perform the coal to methane transformation.
In a nutshell, the microorganisms eat coal and methane comes out the other end, which is really the same thing that occurs when cows eat grass. Burning methane is cleaner than burning coal. Thus, Luca’s bugs can cut down the fumes and pollution from what is probably the inevitable continued consumption of coal.

The microbes can also eat dirty shale oil. They are anaroebic too.

This sort of biogenic production of methane is already taking place underground naturally, the company has said in published papers. Luca’s goal is to commercialize and standardize it. Microbes are the central players in a number of clean tech companies: Amyris, Genomatica, Cambrios, ZeaChem, Mascoma. _Greentech
A different type of in situ coal to gas process is planned by Laurus Energy, which plans to perform in situ gasification using a high tech igniter. Laurus intends to separate the CO2 from the H2 and CH4, and use the CO2 for oil well extraction and the flammable gases for producing electricity (hopefully CHP) in a combined cycle process for high efficiency.
It works like this. Rather than mine coal in open pits, Laurus digs a deep production well in which it sticks an industrialized cigar lighter. This ignites the coal still locked in subterranean seams. The coal then turns into a synthetic gas, which gets drawn to the surface through another well.

Laurus then fractionalizes the syngas: carbon dioxide is separated and sent via a pipe to oil fields, where it is injected deep into other wells to help pull crude out of the ground. The rest of the gases-a combination of hydogen, methane and hydrocarbons-is then burnt in a gas-fueled power plant. _Greentech
Coal is an abundant and near ubiquitous substance over large sections of the planet subsurface. Developing cleaner and more efficient ways of utilising coal as an energy source will be crucial for bridging the energy gap between the years of cheap oil, and the coming years of cheap abundant sustainable energy from enhanced geothermal, nuclear fusion (fingers crossed), advanced bio-energy, and utility scale solar with integrated large scale storage. Nuclear fission has the potential to be a significant provider of power for at least the next century, but in the long run, the other four are far superior.

The point is that we are at least 30 years away from being able to utilise the big three sustainables. Oil may carry us that far if the oil dictatorships are taken over by enlightened democracies -- but what are the odds? Coal is the dark dirty horse that is capable of being cleaned up at least to the level of oil and gas. Coal can bridge the gap, as long as the Luddites who are in power do not cut us all off at the throats in their religious zeal for the carbon hysteria orthodoxy and crusade.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Solar Gasification of Biomass and Coal and more

The largest problem with large scale use of solar energy is the intermittent nature of solar, with a capacity factor of only 0.2 to 0.25. When large scale baseload energy is needed, solar doesn't fit the bill. Biomass is one form of long-term solar storage. And what more economical way to release the solar energy from biomass, than -- SOLAR gasification?
One of the drawbacks of biomass gasification systems is that the energy to power these reactors is typically drawn from coal-fired power plants. To produce a truly carbon-neutral, or even better, a carbon-negative fuel, the electricity to turn waste biomass feedstocks into a syngas, which can be further processed into fuels, must come from a renewable energy source.

To that end, a team of scientists including engineers and horticulturists from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., have embarked on a project to develop rapid solar-thermal reactor systems for the conversion of biomass to syngas. _BiomassMag
Coal is another form of stored solar energy which might be more cleanly released using solar gasification.
The steam-gasification of coal (peat, lignite, bituminous, and anthracite) into syngas is investigated using concentrated solar energy as the source of high-temperature process heat. The advantages of the solar-driven process are threefold: (1) the discharge of pollutants is avoided; (2) the gaseous products are not contaminated by combustion byproducts; and (3) the calorific value of the fuel is upgraded. _Source
Coal gasification of low quality coal is far superior to simple combustion, in terms of the sequestration of pollutants. Using solar energy to perform the gasification should be more economical, once the processes are worked out and scaled.

Australian researchers have devised an ammonia to hydrogen / nitrogen reversible process powered by solar, as a means of storing solar energy and releasing it on demand (see illustration at top).
The basic idea is that ammonia is pumped into the focus of a large solar collector where temperatures reach several hundreds of degrees. At these temperature the ammonia dissociates into hydrogen and nitrogen. _ANU Sciencewise
The article at the link above explains how the process works. Following the illustration at the top of the post will provide a thumbnail understanding of the reversible process of solar energy storage and use.

Another way that solar energy can be used to facilitate biomass energy is by using solar powered robotic machinery on the farms and in the forests, to collect, densify, and pre-process the biomass for transportation and further processing. Much of this robotic equipment will eventually be largely autonomous, operating during daylight hours to provide a nearly steady stream of biomass feedstock for conversion into useful energy.

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53% of All US Renewables Came from Biomass

Biomass gets no respect, even from self-described engineers who should know better. And yet biomass is the workhorse of renewable energy, with the greatest near and intermediate-term promise for substantial replacement of fossil fuels.
Around the nation, biomass plants have a long, well established history. More than half -- 53 percent -- of all renewables nationwide in 2007 came from biomass, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Biomass advocates point out that this waste produces baseload power -- meaning it can fuel plants around the clock -- while solar power usually operates about 20 to 25 percent of the time.

In Burlington, Vt., the 50-megawatt McNeil power station has been operating successfully since 1984, using mostly left-over branches, leaves and stumps generated by people harvesting firewood or lumber.

Plant manager John Irving says McNeil breaks even at 5.5 cents per kilowatt/hour. (To compare, the typical Florida utility customer pays the utility 10 to 13 cents/kWh.)

...Meanwhile, Georgia Power proposes changing its 96-megawatt Mitchell Plant from burning coal to biomass. This would not only eliminate a source of the worst emitter of greenhouse gases but would also reduce fuel costs by 30 percent and operating-maintenance costs by 13 percent over the life of the plant, according to spokesman Jeff Wilson.

Most of the wood fuel would come from sources considered unusable by timber companies, Georgia Power says. The switch to biomass is estimated to create 50 to 75 new jobs.

In Florida, Biomass Gas & Electric has deals to build three plants, including a 42-megawatt generator in Tallahassee. BG&E spokesman Keith McDermott says the contract will pay BG&E 7.2 cents/kWh. ``Obviously we know we can make the economics work. We're in the business to make money.''

... _MiamiHerald
Biomass has particular advantages and disadvantages, like all forms of energy. It will take time to fit biomass into the best and most economical niches. Time will also be required to determine the best fit of all the various approaches to turning biomass into energy.

Thermochemical conversion of biomass to biofuels and electricity should happen soon and expand quickly to fill available niches. Algal fuels and synthetic microbe generated advanced fuels from lignocellulose will take longer to perfect and mature to production scales. But they will happen. The Earth is a biological planet. Between abundant sunlight, abundant nutrients including atmospheric CO2, and an incredibly stable climate other than glaciations, the potential for production of bioenergy on land, sea, and up into the sky (3D agriculture, aquaculture, and microculture) is virtually unlimited.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Bioenergy Progress in Europe and the US

In Europe, Air Liquide is progressing in its biomass-to-liquid fuel (BTL) process, building on its successful first stage biomass pyrolysis project and moving to the second stage.
The Bioliq process (PDF), being co-developed by Lurgi and FZK with support from Fachagentur für Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (FNR), is a three-stage process. Biomass is pyrolized to a pyrolysis oil. The pyrolysis oil is mixed with pyrolysis coke from the process to create a biocrude slurry for subsequent gasification to syngas and conversion to chemicals and/or fuels.

The partners envision the pyrolysis stage as being decentralized, in locations close to the source of biomass. The gasification and synthesis stages will be in large centralized locations, preferably existing refineries. _GCC
In the US, the US DOE is announcing up to $200 million in financing for advanced biomass to biofuels projects.
All projects must be located within the US, use feedstock from domestic biomass resources, and demonstrate greenhouse gas reductions on a lifecycle basis. Advanced biofuels produced from these projects are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 50%, as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. _GCC
The emphasis on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a misplaced effort of the DOE to appear trendy and in tune with the carbon hysteria of the EU and the incoming administration of the narcissist-elect, Barak Obama. Long after the scientific basis of green house climate catastrophe has been undermined by real science and real world data, political sycophants will continue to use "climate change" as a selling point for new government programs.

As long as the resulting product is economically profitable above and beyond its "greenhouse" effects, that should be no problem, other than a monumental waste of time, energy, and taxpayer resources in chasing the "greenhouse demons".

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

China : 60 GW of Nuclear by 2020

China is aiming high for nuclear power. From a current 9 GW of nuclear, China aims to produce 60 GW by the year 2020 -- a mere 11 years away.
China this week started the construction of the Yangjiang nuclear power plant in Guangdong province with an investment of 70 billion yuan.

The plant will have six 1,000-megawatt (MW) units with the first unit to begin operation in 2013.

Last month, the construction of a 100-billion-yuan nuclear power plant was kicked off in Fujian province.

The plant is designed to have six reactors each with a capacity of 1,000 MW and the first two reactors will become operational in 2013 and 2014.

The NDRC said in November that in order to boost domestic demand, construction of a series of large energy projects was due to start this year.

They include three nuclear power plants with a total of 101,000-MW reactors, including the plants in Fujian and Guangdong and another one in Zhejiang.

China's nuclear sector will continue to see accelerated development in the future, and is not affected by the ongoing financial crisis, Yu Jianfeng, vice-general manager of China National Nuclear Corp, said in November.

"With the development of such rapid pace, nuclear power capacity will exceed 60 GW with no doubt," said Fu Manchang, president of State Nuclear Power Automation System Co. _ChinaDaily
By pursuing all forms of energy despite economic slowdowns, China is taking the wiser course in preparing for a more prosperous future. It is better for China to invest in its own capacity to grow and produce, than to continue to invest its earnings in overseas economies such as the US, which have fallen under the control of neo-fascist promoters of government control and ownership of the economy.

Using the full spectrum of nuclear fuels that will be available, China's fission plants should be well powered for centuries. Within that time span, other more abundant and more sustainable methods of power production will certainly be developed.

The collapse of the Chinese empire into competing smaller nation-fragments appears inevitable in the long run. But in the short run, the CCP appears to have things well in hand. Of course, that's what Barney Frank and Maxine Waters said about Fannie Mae a few years ago.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Using Salt Water Irrigation to Grow Crops in Salty Soil: Expanding Cropland

Some species of Panicum grasses are quite tolerant to salt, and can be grown on salty soil to provide animal feed. Even more surprisingly, some strains of these species of Panicum can be irrigated with salt water, minimally fertilised, and grow healthy harvests!
The research team focused on a plant called Panicum turgidum that can grow in salty conditions. They measured its protein content and determined that it could be a suitable alternative to existing cattle feed.

Then they tested its growth potential when irrigated with the salty water found in the area. They showed that Panicum grew so fast it could be harvested almost monthly. Overall, with limited fertilizer, they produced 60,000 kilograms per hectare during the yearlong study. Nielsen is confident that further studies that determine the best ratios of fertilizer will boost that number over 100,000 kilograms.

The researchers also used nature to preserve a sustainable growing environment. Panicum is a "salt excluder," meaning it survives salty conditions by keeping salt out of its system, which most other plants can't do.

Although this allows Panicum to grow on salty water, the extra salt deposited by irrigation would render the soil too salty for even this hardy plant. So the researchers found that planting a companion crop that is a "salt accumulator" prevented the soil from getting too salty.

The other plant sucked up the extra salt, then was harvested and burned and the ashes turned into soap. After the yearlong study, the levels of salt in the soil were virtually unchanged. _SeedDaily
By growing large amounts of animal feed on salty soil not suitable for growing human foods, huge areas of arable cropland can be freed up for food and/or cash crops -- rather than devoting much of it to growing maize for animals.

Of course salt-tolerant plants can also be used as biomass for pyrolysis, gasification, torrefaction, etc.

The most fascinating breakthroughs will occur when the genes that allow salt tolerance, salt-rejection, and salt-concentration, can be selectively inserted (along with any necessary helper genes and epigenetic apparatus) into plants or microbes of one's choosing.

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Obama's and Pelosi's Backward Coal Stance: Outsmarted by China

In a brilliant feat of legerdemain, China has demonstrated its own adroitness on the world energy scene. Anticipating the carbon-phobic stance of the incoming Obama / Pelosi reich, China has laid the foundation for supremacy in clean-coal IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) technology. Coal gasification is a critical component of any intelligent "bridge energy policy" meant to span the gap in time between the "cheap oil age", and the "abundant clean sustainable energy age".

Coal is an abundant energy resource worldwide, and using IGCC technology coal can be cleaner than most other current large-scale forms of energy production. But US carbon-hysteric politicians in the Obama / Pelosi reich are afraid of coal, and are unlikely to allow most large scale coal gasification projects to proceed. That carbon-phobic stance leaves the door wide open for any nation willing to develop this vital bridge energy technology.
The oil and gas giant BP reinforced China's position as a clean-coal technology leader last month, by establishing a $73 million research center in Shanghai with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to help commercialize technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and gasification. In another sign of the country's suddenly bold role in green technology, China's battery giant BYD launched the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid vehicle yesterday.

Underpinning China's potential leadership in carbon-neutral coal power is broad expertise with gasification. By 2010, China will have installed 29 gasification projects since 2004, compared with zero in the United States, according to the Gasification Technologies Council, a trade group based in Arlington, VA. Most of these Chinese projects turn coal into synthesis gas (or syngas)--a blend of carbon monoxide and hydrogen--to feed catalysts that synthesize chemicals and fuels. IGCC technology uses the same syngas to drive turbines and generate electricity with far less pollution than conventional coal plants. For example, mercury and soot levels are close to those seen at natural gas-fired plants, while carbon dioxide comes out in a pure stream that should be easier to capture and sequester.

...The project plans to start up a 250-megawatt IGCC plant in Tianjin in 2010 using a novel gasifier designed by the Thermal Power Research Institute in Xi'an; the plant will also supply some syngas and heat to local chemical plants. GreenGen plans to catapult the output of the gasifier design, from a 36-tons-per-day pilot plant, directly to commercial scale of 2,000 tons per day.

And GreenGen is already preparing to scale up further: in April, GreenGen and Tianjin officials signed an agreement for two 400-megawatt IGCC units. Meanwhile, Chinese utility firm Huaneng, GreenGen's majority stakeholder, started up a CCS pilot project at its Beijing coal power plant this summer. _TechReview
With the experience and expertise of building and operating large scale IGCC projects under their belts, Chinese enterprises will be in the driver's seat, energy-wise. As Europe and the Anglosphere grow more carbon-phobic and energy-starved, China will be the only one experienced enough with IGCC and "clean coal" to bail out the foolish carbon hysterics.

Of course if the west pursues advanced generation nuclear fission, or gets lucky with scalable nuclear fusion, coal can be used for making chemicals and polymers instead of energy and fuel -- sometime in the next 30 or 40 years. In the meantime, several decades will need to be spanned with some form of plentiful energy source.

China is betting on a sure thing, the same "sure thing" at which the Obama / Pelosi reich turns its nose up. In fact, the O / P reich turns its nose up at a lot of things, including oil sands, oil shale, coal, nuclear, offshore oil, arctic oil, and almost any other form of energy you can think of.

Solar thermal and geothermal are two likely sources of energy with big futures, which are also sustainable. In 20 or 30 years, they could both be a hugely important part of the energy portfolio. Wind is too unreliable for anyone but airheads to rely on it. Photovoltaics are still waiting for large scale energy storage that is affordable. Even biomass -- the best renewable -- will take decades to scale up to its potential.

Any way you slice it, coal gasification (IGCC is the best form), is a very good bet. You can judge the good players and the poor players by how they react to that technology.

Previously published at Al Fin

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Algae Fuels Research Picks Up Momentum

Three new research projects focusing on commercializing algae as a feedstock for biodiesel production were recently announced. _BiodieselMag
The link above will take you to the Biodiesel Magazine article that describes the efforts of the Midwest Research Institute, the Center for Integrated Algal Research, and the US DOE Ames Laboratory microalgae biofuels research. Outside the US, the UK's Algae Biofuels Challenge is being managed by the Carbon Trust, and independent company funded by the UK government. The Australian government is also financing research into algal biofuels.

Origin oil announced the automation of its patented Helix Bioreactor System for algal cultivation.
The design of the Helix BioReactor™ utilizes low-energy lights arranged in a helix pattern and a rotating vertical shaft design, which allows algae culture to replicate exponentially within a smaller installation footprint. Automation of this system is a key step towards continuous algae production, allowing greater control of the growth environment and efficient, low-cost industrial algae production.

...The automation will provide real-time control over all stages of monitoring, nutrient injection and CO2 delivery at the micron or Quantum Fracturing™ level. Nutrient and CO2 delivery are timed precisely to a proprietary algorithm to provide an optimum micron-mixed fluid in the bioreactor. Through programming of certain key metrics, such as pH, oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) and temperature, the system is capable of not only monitoring but also controlling flow and timing of events in the algae growth cycle, which is crucial to controlling batch health in continuous algae production. _EarthTimes
Sapphire Energy of San Diego, is an agal biofuels company that has raised $100 million, and has an agreement with Continental Airlines to supply large quantities of its biofuel for flight testing. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is one of the investors backing Sapphire.

Other research is oriented toward tweaking the genome of microalgae, in the effort to cause the single-celled organisms to produce more hydrocarbons and less sugar.

It is wise to develop efficient productive methods for algal biofuels now, so that when the price of oil inevitably rises, companies will be ready to ramp up production to compete with more expensive petro-fuels.


Canadian Bio-Oil from Pyrolysis, Since 1989

Pyrolysis can take biomass and turn it into liquid pyrolysis oil -- bio-oil -- , gas, and biochar. It happens at high temperature in the absence of oxygen. Pyrolysis has been around for a while, but as the cost of procuring petro-oil grows greater, pyrolysis and other bioenergy approaches will become more important. The advantage of pyrolysis over gasification, is that pyrolysis oil can be stored, piped, shipped, and otherwise used at leisure. Gasification products must be used promptly to prevent degradation.
During the production of bio-oil, solid biomass wood is blasted into a tornado of hot sand at the bottom of a conversion unit. In less than two seconds the wood is vaporized. It is then condensed and recovered as a liquid bio-oil.

Seventy-five percent of the solid wood biomass injected into the RTP system is transformed into high yields of espresso-like bio-oil. The liquid wood is not a tar. It is a pourable fluid, which Ensyn treats as its own version of crude oil, and is used as a resource to make other products, such as high value biochemicals, in the same way petroleum crude is used in a variety of applications.

The remaining 25 percent of the biomass is converted into non-condensable gas and charcoal. These byproducts are fed back into a reheater in order to keep the tornado of sand at the required processing temperature. More energy is in the gas and char than required to drive this process, so the reheater has a surplus of energy. Ensyn uses this surplus to dry the wet biomass that arrives at the facility and to supply other industrial heat requirements.

Since 1989, Ensyn’s RTP plants have been making liquid bio-oil from solid wood biomass through a patented fast pyrolysis thermal process. Liquid bio-oil can replace heating fuel, natural gas and coal in a vast array of boiler applications. The company produces renewable energy in the form of a liquid fuel as opposed to a gas or solid fuel, which enables what is known as “decoupling.” With decoupling, production can be separated by time and space from the actual use of the product. _Bioenergy
Pyrolysis will be an important method in the bioenergy industry. Providing sufficient feedstock for bioenergy production will be a challenge that will have to be faced over the next decade or two.

Speaking of bioenergy, the Johnny Walker distillery in Scotland is raising $100 million to add a biomass CHP plant to provide most of its own electricity and steam from the distillery's effluent. The project illustrates a growing trend toward producing useful energy from what was formerly considered bothersome garbage.

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Important News on the Fusion Energy Front

Both Brian Wang and Brian Westenhaus are reporting that the Emc2 polywell fusion project (Bussard) has passed a crucial test on its way to proving itself as a workable path to fusion power. Just one more step on the way to clean, abundant, sustainable power. And in the case of polywell fusion, it is a modular approach that could be easily carried on ships, large planes, and spacecraft.
A little background for newcomers. Dr. Bussard, whose name you may recognize from as wide of a base as the Bussard Collector concept to harvest fuel in space that was incorporated into Star Trek scripts to Assistant Director of the Thermonuclear Reactor Division of the old U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. At some point Dr. Bussard got the idea to take the Farnsworth principles from vacuum tube technology and seek a method and design to form his own theory using velocity of atoms instead of heat and pressure to compel a nuclear fusion. With decades of experience at the very top of the U.S. atomic energy industry Dr. Bussard sensed that ideas such as the tokamak, a “gift” from the former Soviet Union and other ideas that sought to create center of a star like conditions to be impractical if ever possible.

Bussard’s idea evolved into a cube formed by electromagnets that when charged up make a ball of electromagnetism or a sphere shaped magnetic field. At the center of the cube is a point of intensity, which is negatively charged. When a fuel that has a positive charge is injected it descends to the center and may collide with another fuel atom. If the fuel misses, the negative charge slows and sends the positive charged fuel back again to the center. All this happens at incredible speeds. The descending is actually acceleration and will repeat until the fuel fuses. _NewEnergyandFuel
The latest experiment demonstrated the ability of the polywell design to contain the fuel against leaks long enough to sustain useful fusion to provide usable power.
If Polywell pans out, nuclear fusion could be done more cheaply and more safely than it could ever be done in a tokamak or a laser blaster. The process might be able to produce power without throwing off loads of radioactive byproducts. It might even use helium-3 mined from the moon. "We don't want to oversell this," Nebel said, "but this is pretty interesting stuff, and if it works, it's huge."

...Nebel and his colleagues have already drawn up a plan for the next step: an 18-month program to build and test a larger fusor prototype. "We're shopping that around inside the DOD [Department of Defense], and we'll see what happens," he said. _CosmicLog _ via BW and BW
Be sure to check out the videos on Polywell-Bussard Fusion from Brian Wang. Don't miss the cornucopia of links and information on Bussard Fusion available at Power and Control blog.

Despite economic pessimism over the global credit collapse and the depressive effect of the new US administration on private sector recovery prospects, science and technology R&D are progressing on many important fronts.

The key obstacle to human progress is the general stupidity of the human species. But even as ways are discovered to "tweak up" the cognitive power of humans, the threat of economic collapse and ideology-driven suppression of private enterprise and initiative threaten a new "dark ages". Several things must happen simultaneously for self-selected humans to step up to the next level. Clean, abundant, scalable power production is only one of those things.

Previously published at Al Fin blog


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Food vs. Fuels a Bogus Issue: Cellulosic Biofuels Adequate for Global Needs by 2030

German researchers have published a study revealing that by 2030 cellulosic biofuels using pyrolysis and gasification can provide transportation fuels to meet global needs using land not suitable for growing food.
According to Prof. Jürgen O. Metzger from Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, and Prof. Aloys Hüttermann from the Universität Göttingen, a global energy supply based on biomass grown to generate electricity and produce fuel is both a sustainable and economical scenario, contrary to some other current research. Their findings are published online this week in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

The solution, according to Metzger and Hüttermann, is to plant fast-growing trees on degraded areas, and harvest the biomass for energy usage. This afforestation would not compete with the need for arable land for food production. The authors argue that the investment required for afforestation and transformation of the biomass to electrical energy, heat, fuels and chemical feedstock is actually sustainable and not more, probably even less, than what would need to be invested in infrastructure for non-sustainable fossil energy.

For their global overall estimations for transportation fuels, the two used the conversion of the lignocellulosic biomass to biooil (“bioslurry”) via pyrolysis and its subsequent gasification to a syngas followed by Fischer–Tropsch synthesis (biomass-to-liquids, BTL). _GCC
These conclusions suggest that there is no "food vs fuels" issue, and that current technology can solve the global transportation fuels demand in the intermediate future.

Al Fin feels that this study did not go far enough, since huge areas Earth's surface can be used to grow ocean biomass and haplophytic organisms on salty soil. In addition, the potential for growing abundant algae in desert areas using saltwater will multiply potential biofuels much more.

Further development of plant genetics, chemical catalysts, other synthetic and separation technologies, etc. will be helpful--but not necessary for biofuels to play a huge role in the future energy menu.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Hawaii and Taiwan Ink 10 MW OTEC Deal

The state of Hawaii is partnering with the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan to build a 10 MW OTEC plant off the shores of Hawaii.
OTEC could provide renewable electricity generated from the difference in temperature between the ocean’s warm surface and its chilly depths.

The ocean temperatures and the subsea terrain make the waters surrounding both Taiwan and Hawai‘i superior locations for this technology. Lockheed Martin Corporation has developed and studied OTEC technology for over 30 years. Its plans for a 10-MW OTEC pilot plant in Hawai‘i are already underway. _Source
OTEC takes advantage of warm solar heated surface waters in combination with cold deep ocean waters, to provide the necessary heat differential to drive a heat engine. Besides generating electricity, OTEC can also create fresh water, and provide abundant air conditioning for the tropics. Aquaculture promotion from nutrient-rich deep seawater is another benefit.

Closed-cycle OTEC uses a refrigerant/heat exchange material to drive the power turbine. Alternatively, open-cycle OTEC uses vacuum "flash distillation" to create fresh-water "steam" to drive the turbine and to provide fresh water.

Both forms of OTEC provide power and air conditioning, although only the open-cycle form provides fresh water directly. Closed-cycle OTEC can provide fresh water via condensation on surfaces cooled by the deep cool seawater.

OTEC is a relatively small scale power source, but should suit large numbers of tropical island communities that have access to deep seawater.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nuclear Fusion News

The long shot solution for human energy/power needs is nuclear fusion. The same type of power that lights the sun and the stars has the potential to light the nighttime cities of Earth and power its industry, for the indefinite future. Brian Wang presents a useful update on Focus Fusion -- a clever, small-scale fusion approach from Lawrenceville Plasma Physics.

Brian's report comes soon after a finding from MIT that high power radio waves have the potential to "focus" plasma in a fusion reactor, such as the ITER reactor.

M. Simon has an imbed video of the likely incoming US DOE Secretary, Steven Chu, discussing fusion -- including a brief mention of the Polywell Fusion approach.

Here is an interesting look at a hybrid "fission / fusion" reactor,which would help to deal with the problem of radioactive waste from the world's fission reactors.
Creating commercially useful power with fusion, in which small atoms are combined to produce energy, always seems to be decades away — and too costly. But physicists at the University of Texas at Austin have come up with a reactor design that would provide a second purpose for fusion: destroying long-lived nuclear waste arising from the splitting of atoms — or fission.
Both the Polywell Process and the Focus Fusion approach are considered dark horse candidates. But success in either camp would completely overturn our present conceptual views of world energy dynamics.

Low cost, lightweight, modular fusion power reactors would be ideal for remote and extreme environments on Earth, under the ocean, at the polar regions, and for outer space outposts on the lunar surface and beyond.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Pseudotrichonympha grassi & Clostridium phytofermentans Take Biofuels Center Stage

Two bacterial cellulose-chompers have made the news this week. Pseudotrichonympha grassi (P. grassi) is commonly found in termite gut, a symbiont that thrives on woody cellulose. Biofuels researchers are trying to make use of P. grassi and its termite gut associates in the rush to turn cellulose into useful fuels. Clostridium phytofermentans is even more intriguing.
Qteros says that its bacteria can convert many different types of feedstock, including starch, corn cobs, sugarcane bagasse, and woody biomass, directly into ethanol. And while most organisms that can break down cellulose--including common yeast--can only digest six-carbon sugars, the Q can digest five-carbon sugars too, meaning that it can produce more ethanol from the same material, Frey says.
The biofuels industry also received some good news from the US political front, where narcissist-elect Barak Obama has selected Nobel Laureate Steven Chu -- an advocate of biofuels -- for the position of US Energy Secretary. It is rare for cabinet secretaries to be as accomplished as Chu.
Steven Chu, Obama's pick for the head of the Department of Energy, is a steadfast supporter of next-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, expected to be made from the tough woody bits of crops like grasses and fast growing trees as well as plant and timber waste.

A 2007 report co-chaired by Chu, and commissioned by the governments of China and Brazil, called for "intensive research" into production of cellulosic, which relies on technology like isolating microbes, or using large amounts of heat and steam, to break down the tough bits into fuel.

Chu, the head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Nobel physics laureate, also helped organize the Energy Biosciences Institute, a lab focusing on next-generation biofuels funded with $500 million from oil major BP Plc. _Reuters
Chu is opposed to maize ethanol mandates, however. Chu's appointment may mean a much faster transition to cellulosic alcohols and synthetic hydrocarbons.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Giant Solar Thermal Steam Turbine from Siemens

Siemens is set to supply BrightSource Solar with a 123 MW solar thermal steam turbine by 2011, for the BrightSource California heliostat farm.
"Siemens is proud to be building the largest fully solar-powered steam turbine generator to date for BrightSource's Ivanpah solar power plant."

BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar Power Complex will be comprised of three separate solar plants and will produce a combined total of 400 MW of power. Upon completion, the Ivanpah Solar Power Complex will produce enough clean energy to power the homes of 140,000 PG and E customers and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 500,000 tons per year. BrightSource is scheduled to begin construction on the Ivanpah site in 2009.

BrightSource Energy's solar thermal energy plants are built on the company's proven Luz Power Tower (LPT) technology.

The system uses thousands of small mirrors called heliostats to reflect sunlight onto a boiler atop a tower to produce high temperature steam. The steam is then piped to a conventional turbine inside a power block, which generates electricity. The electricity is then connected to the transmission grid for consumption. The steam is air-cooled and piped back into the system in a closed-loop, environmentally friendly process. _Source
The Power Tower technology allows for the direct heating of superheated steam, for efficient steam turbine power generation. Using the Kalina Cycle, a combined cycle power generation scheme would allow for even greater utilisation of this focused energy resource.

Biomass backup systems are likely to be used more frequently with solar thermal plants, to allow for 24 hour power generation -- with the overnight power generated on a scaled-down basis. Either biomass gasification, or the firing of "biocoal" torrified biomass (with or without coal co-firing), will allow biomass to serve as a backup power source. Unfortunately, even such high-efficiency and partially redundant renewable plants will require gas and coal backup sources to compensate for the fickle nature of nature.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

E. Coli Gene-Tweaked to Make 5 - 8 Carbon Alcohols With Much Higher Energy Density Than Ethanol, Even Higher than Butanol

With alcohol fuels, the longer the carbon chain, the higher the energy density -- the more energy per gallon of fuel. Scientists at UCLA have tweaked a strain of E. Coli bacteria to ferment alcohols with carbon chains between 5 and 8 carbons in length. Butanol has only 4 carbons, and ethanol has but 2. Lowly methanol has only one carbon. Besides having more energy per gallon, the longer chain alcohols will be easily separated from water, negating the need for the expensive distillation step required by ethanol.
Liao and his colleagues use synthetic-biology tools to tinker with the amino acid metabolism of E. coli. All organisms produce a large number of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. The researchers reengineer this metabolic pathway so that toward the end, the precursor compounds that would normally get converted into amino acids instead turn into long-chain alcohols.

To do this, the researchers insert genes into the bacteria that make them produce unnaturally long amino acid precursor molecules that have more than six carbon atoms. They also engineer two genes--one from a type of yeast, one from a cheese-making bacterium--into the microbe. These modified genes produce two new proteins that can convert the precursors into five-to-eight-carbon alcohols.

Startups LS9 and Amyris Biotechnologies are already reengineering microbes to produce hydrocarbon fuels. Both plan to begin commercial production of their fuels by 2010. _TechnologyReview
Very clever gene engineering. It will no doubt take time to scale up the process for higher yields and industrial quantities.

All the same, gene engineered micro-organisms stand to have the same revolutionary effect on biofuels production, eventually, that they are already having on pharmaceutical production. With some of the newer, less energy intensive processes, the largest expense after the physical plant will likely be feedstock. The ability to use minimally processed biomass as feedstock should allow such microbe produced biofuels to begin competing with petrofuels within the decade.

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Department of Energy Maps Soybean Genome

The US DOE Joint Genome Institute has completed mapping the soybean genome. Soybeans account for 70% of Earth's edible protein, and a significant amount of biodiesel production. Soy is a nitrogen-fixing legume that grows in many different climatic regions.
DOE JGI’s interest in sequencing the soybean centers on its use for biodiesel, a renewable, alternative fuel with the highest energy content of any alternative fuel. According to 2007 U.S. Census data, soybean is estimated to be responsible for more than 80 percent of biodiesel production.

...“The soybean genome sequence will be a valuable resource for the basic researcher and soybean breeder alike,” said Jim Collins, Assistant Director for the Biology Directorate at the NSF. _Checkbiotech
Plant breeders hope to be able to optimise soybeans to various types of soils and climates, as well as to modify its production for higher yields of desired products -- such as oils or proteins.

The genetic modification of food and energy crops is still at an early stage. The next stage would be taking specific gene sets or stacks from one plant and transferring them to another plant -- to achieve synergistic growth and yield characteristics from the combination.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Gene Stacks Instead of Smoke Stacks

Chicago based Chromatin -- an agricultural genetics company -- is raising funds to develop radical new energy crops through extreme genetic modification. Chromatin's genetic methods utilise a "mini-chromosome" technique that introduces multiple genes into a plant simultaneously. Such "gene stack" technology allows for a more radical transformation of the plant genome and characteristics.
Chromatin, which gets its name from the substance in the nucleus of a cell that condenses to form chromosomes during cell division, initially developed its “mini-chromosome” technology to enable quick improvement of crops and feedstocks for the agriculture industry. With this fresh round of funding, Chromatin said it plans to team up with companies in the biofuel industry to provide distribution channels for its genetic products, but has yet to name any potential partners for the move.

The company was founded in 2000 based on technology developed at the University of Chicago. Chromatin said its mini-chromosome technology makes it possible to introduce multiple genes, or gene stacks, simultaneously into any plant cell, with applications in crops such as corn and soybeans. The company plans to develop feedstocks with the gene stacks needed to boost yields and cut the costs of producing fermentable sugars for the burgeoning cellulosic ethanol industry.

Chromatin hasn’t said which properties it’s looking to enhance in biofuel feedstocks, but for its agricultural products the company said its technology could lead to crops with properties such as resistance to disease, greater salt and drought tolerance, and more nutritional value. The company also said its mini-chromosome process could cut the time it takes to to get those new crop traits to market by half and increase crop yields by 25 percent. _Bioenergy
Chromatin is working with Monsanto to achieve many of its biofuel crop goals.

It is easy to see that by increasing salt and drought tolerance, the amount of viable land available worldwide could easily be multiplied by an order of magnitude -- thus destroying the worth of the calculations of many biofuels naysayers.

Another genetic transformation that would have an extreme impact on the future of biofuels, is the ability to induce nitrogen fixation capability in plants -- doing away with the need to add nitrogenous fertilisers.

Biotech, Nanotech, Artificial Intelligence, Advanced Robotics, Advanced Communications and Networking . . . The convergence of these technologies will transform life as we know it, and do away with many of the limitations human societies currently chafe under.

Unfortunately, humans themselves have not changed since the days of hunter gatherer tribal warfare for resources. A psychology based upon scarcity. It is not certain that human psychology is capable of changing, on the whole.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Black Liquor Waste Stream from Paper Plants Could Provide 2% of Global Fuel

Black liquor is a waste byproduct of the paper/pulp process. As environmental regulations grow stricter, the paper/pulp industry has been under pressure to find an economical use for the waste stream. Chemrec has developed a Black Liquor Gasification (BLG) process to turn the waste fluid into syngas, then into CHP or fuel.
Chemrec’s black liquor gasification (BLG) technology converts the black liquor waste stream from the paper pulping process into synthesis gas. The synthesis gas can then be processed into a variety of fuels—likely dimethyl ether (DME) and methanol (MeOH), although fuels such as Fischer-Tropsch diesel (FTD), Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG), or hydrogen are also possible.

The global potential of this is equivalent to more than 45 billion liters a year of gasoline, according to Chemrec—2% of global fuel demand. _GCC
Any carbon based organic matter can be converted into syngas using gasification, or into bio-oil and bio-char by using pyrolysis. The syngas and bio-oil can be chemically refined into fuel, or can be used to fire CHP generators directly. The bio-char can be used for soil enrichment, or for the many other uses to which charcoal is put.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Viaspace, General Atomics, Others Pursue Biofuel

Biofuels output and investment appears to be temporarily stalled due to a global economic downturn. But Viaspace estimates a near-term biofuels market of $25 billion yearly. The company aims to grab its share without delay.
VIASPACE Inc. (OTC Bulletin Board: VSPC) today announced the Company is cultivating a new fast-growing hybrid grass to be used for production of cellulosic ethanol, methanol, biocrude and green gasoline. VIASPACE is taking a leadership position in the development of feedstock for sustainable biofuels, targeting the growing $25 billion global biofuels market. The Company is working to develop supply contracts with companies in China and also expand into other worldwide markets. VIASPACE expects to generate $20 million in revenue in the next two years selling this high-yield grass for alternative fuels as well as livestock feed.
In fact, the time to develop alternative fuels is while the price of petroleum is low. Then when the price rises, you will be in a position to take immediate advantage of marginal prices--while your competitors are still struggling to develop financing and develop production methods.

General Atomics, in San Diego, is forming a partnership with Eastern Kentucky University to develop a profitable algal biodiesel operation.
Eastern will use a $4 million appropriation in the U.S. Defense Department budget secured by Congressman Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, and up to $1.5 million more in state and local funding to create a Center for Renewable and Alternative Fuel Technologies (CRAFT). It will utilize 250 acres in the Clark County Industrial Park to determine which non-food plants will produce the best bio-diesel fuel. The process will use algae in tanks rather than ponds to break down the cellulosic – non-food parts of plants and materials such as wood products, switch grass, or even tobacco stalks – materials.

The project is in two phases, according to EKU President Doug Whitlock. If the initial research phase at EKU is successful, General Atomics will construct a production facility in Clark County
Another industry looking into developing algal fuels is the aquaculture industry of Southeast Asia. A high proportion of seafood served in restaurants worldwide is produced via aquaculture. The profitable industry is looking for diversified investments, and algal biofuels seems like a good fit.
Microalgae comprise a vast group of photosynthetic, heterotrophic organisms which have an extraordinary potential for cultivation as energy crops, experts say.

They can be cultivated under difficult agro-climatic conditions and are able to produce a wide range of commercially interesting byproducts such as fats, oils, sugars and functional bioactive compounds.

Certain microalgae are effective in the production of hydrogen and oxygen through the process of biophotolysis while others naturally manufacture hydrocarbons which are suitable for direct use as high-energy liquid fuels. _Bioenergy

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